'I tried to keep a lid on my World Cup call-up; it was almost impossible' - Conor Murray 2 months ago

'I tried to keep a lid on my World Cup call-up; it was almost impossible' - Conor Murray

"I still count that try!"

Conor Murray was 22 and had just helped Munster to the Magners League [now Guinness Pro14) title when Declan Kidney called him up to the Ireland squad for the first time.

The Patrickswell native was expecting to come in, train alongside some of the players he had grown up idolising, make a mark with the coaches, possibly win a cap or two, and mark it down to experience.

He made his debut, off the bench in Bordeaux, against France and played another 20 minutes in the send-off game against England, at the Aviva Stadium. Kidney had Eoin Reddan, Isaac Boss and Peter Stringer in his squad so Murray was expecting to be released to Munster.

A week before Kidney made his squad announcement official, Murray got a call at home. He was going to New Zealand but had to keep schtum for a week about it.

At the launch the Aviva Mini Rugby Nations Cup, on Wednesday, Murray recalled that phone call, and the week thereafter, from 2011.

"I was back home as the squad had been given a couple of days off," he says. "I was living with a few Munster lads - Declan Cusack, Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Paddy Butler.

"It was quite surreal, getting the call from Deccie. The lads may have been waiting to see if I got the call but Declan, my roommate, but have been listening in. As soon as I got off the phone, he burst into the room and we started celebrating.

"I had to keep the news to myself for a week but it wasn't easy, especially as all the other lads knew I was going to the World Cup."

Murray had made the squad ahead of Munster and Ireland legend Peter Stringer and it was soon apparent that he was pushing for that No.9 jersey. Kidney started him for the tournament-opening win over the USA but he was on the bench for the crucial game against Australia at Eden Park.

"That was the first real buzz I got from playing for Ireland. At a sold-out Eden Park and I got to soak it in for the first 50, 55 minutes. There were Irish fans all over the ground.

"My mum and sister arrived in the country that evening and got over to the ground in time for the kick-off. Back then, you didn't know if you were ready or even good enough, but I just told myself I had to get out there and finish off the good work from the lads.

"I thought I had sealed the win at the end with that breakaway try and I got to enjoy it for about five seconds. It was called back for a forward pass but I still count that try!"

Murray is missing this weekend's World Cup warm-up against Wales but is hoping to feature in the Ireland XV when Warren Gatland brings his Grand Slam champions to Dublin on September 7.

With injury and fitness concerns over out-halves Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery, Murray may be called upon to take a kick or two for goal over in Japan.

"I kicked all the time at U19 and U20s but didn't get that many opportunities once I started with Munster. Ronan O'Gara was never going to give up any kicks for me!

"It was always in the locker but it was not until the 2013 Lions Tour [to Australia] that Neil Jenkins suggested I work on it a bit more. To have the support and advice from a guy like him encouraged me to really add to that side of my game. It's just about going through a proper routine and keeping your focus.

"Garry Ringrose can do it as well and there is a bit of healthy competition in the squad. There's always coffees on the line or closest to the crossbar with loser shouting lunch. Joey has bought me a few coffees lately but, in fairness, he is on one leg!"

Murray had taken a few kicks at goal for Munster, after that Lions tour to Australia, but the first time he stepped up in a Test match was in the memorable 40-29 victory over New Zealand, in November 2016.

"Johnny was down [getting treatment] and Richie Murphy came over to me and said, 'You can do it. Back your strike'.

"It was pretty much straight in front but it was just about blocking out the crowd and following your kicking routine. Thankfully it went over and gave us some breathing space."

Conor Murray was on hand in Aviva Stadium to launch the Aviva Mini Rugby Nations Cup. Aviva are giving 20 U10 boys’ and U12 girls’ teams the chance to fulfil their dreams by playing on the same pitch as their heroes on September 22 while Conor and the team are up against Scotland in Japan. See aviva.ie/safetodream or Aviva Ireland social channels using #SafeToDream for details. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

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