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28th Jun 2021

“It’s no secret, there’s been criticism over the last couple of years. That frustrated me”

Patrick McCarry

Conor Murray

“It’s no secret. I mean, there’s been criticism over the last couple of years.”

Conor Murray did not take long to go from international-class to world-class after he burst on the Test scene. It took him all of nine months – the 2012 summer tour to New Zealand – and he was right up there for eight straight years.

2019 and 2020 saw him come back to the pack. Munster and Ireland still had a proven performer, and one capable of controlling big matches, but some of the spark was gone.

The big change was Murray not making near as many snipes and carries as he used to. Neck and shoulder injuries, dating back to 2017 and never fully clearing up, played a big part in that. Murray himself admits as much.

With Andy Farrell looking at Jamison Gibson-Park and John Cooney, in 2020, the Conor Murray aura was fading. He was not untouchable any more. Indeed, there was a 10-minute spell, in October 2020, when Garry Ringrose will in as emergency scrum-half and showed Irish fans what they were missing in a high-tempo, sniping cameo.

Murray was gradually coming back to form and confidence with Munster. Farrell rewarded him with a start against Wales but injury saw him miss out on the next two games. His most worrying moment came when he was recalled to the bench for the win over Scotland but not used at all.

Murray got his chance against England and played a big part in a thumping Irish win. Six weeks later, he made his third Lions squad. Six week after that, he is now the Lions tour captain.

On his House of Rugby appearance [LISTEN from 8:45 below], last month, Murray spoke about rediscovering his confidence, form, and the fire within.

Conor Murray

“This Lions tour was something I really wanted,” said Murray. “On the last tour, I really enjoyed it. I was playing great rugby.

“In my head, obviously you map it out when you’re looking at World Cups and other events. Like, ‘I’ll be 32, will I still be featuring?’

“I didn’t really think that far ahead but, the closer it got… The criticism [I received], definitely. It’s no secret. I mean, there’s been criticism over the last couple of years. That frustrated me, at times, because I didn’t agree with quite a lot of it. But then, I did want to prove them wrong, even if they weren’t telling the right story! That was a big motivator for me.

“And then when the Lions year comes around, you start to think about it again.”

Murray has spoken about the moment in Ireland’s team hotel, back in March, when the Lions sent members of the Ireland squad the 2021 Canterbury jerseys for head-shots, in case they made the final cut.

Looking at himself in the mirror, with that Lions logo on his chest, Murray told himself he would do all he could to make that plane to South Africa.

What helped Murray, in that pursuit, was feeling more confident about his neck. There had been two separate spells out, and he admits that the injury may have been in the back of his mind.

“I honestly do [feel in the best shape],” he commented. “The neck is always the one for me, and it’s something that, thankfully, I’ve put to bed.

“I’ve had a good few bangs on it in the past season and it hasn’t really affected me. So, I’ve definitely gone through that rehab process of building up the strength in it, building up my upper-body strength a bit more, and having real confidence to go out and play the way I play.

“For me, it was things like going for short range tries that I score, that aren’t too glamorous! They were things that I’d back myself with, just physically being able to get over the try-line from five metres out, or whatever.

“You know, maybe subconsciously over the last couple of seasons, I’d be worried about hurting myself. You tell yourself you’re not, but I might just pop the ball to someone else and hope they’d do it. Over the last year or so, I’ve seen myself do that a lot more, like I used to.

“Having the confidence to play my natural game like that, I know there’s an awful lot of other parts that you have to sort as well but, that side of things, I feel really good.”

Anyone that watched a lot of Munster games this season will agree with those comments from Murray. He is more of an attacking threat again. Opposition teams cannot rely on him passing the ball on any more and that, in turn, keeps defences trickier to organise. Leinster and Ulster can attest to that – Murray scored three tries in two games against them, in April.

Murray is looking back to his best. It remains to be seen what captaincy will do to him, but he has plenty of other leaders within the squad to lean on.

It has been a wild few months, and the next couple could be wilder yet.


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