There's no arguing with Brian O'Driscoll about Ireland's best player this year 1 year ago

There's no arguing with Brian O'Driscoll about Ireland's best player this year

Jamie Heaslip was nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year. CJ Stander got the Rugby Writers of Ireland award and Bundee Aki [Irish qualified next year] scooped the 2015/16 Guinness PRO12 and IRUPA accolades.

For Brian O'Driscoll, though, Conor Murray has been absolutely superb from January to December. The Munster scrum-half has surpassed all those other big names.

Ireland's Six Nations chances were mortally wounded by an opening draw with Wales followed by a loss to France in Paris. Joe Schmidt's men were neck deep in a crisis when they lost to England at Twickenham [winless in four games] before the moral was boosted with canings for Italy and Scotland.

Through that difficult championship, Murray stood out. He finished with three tries from five games and, with a host of new faces being capped, was emerging as a leader. He told us:

"You're one of the older or more experienced heads in the team now and, I don't think about it much, it's just the way I play. And off the pitch, helping lads out, is just a natural thing. Perfectly comfortable in it and enjoying it."

Ireland sensed brighter days ahead but still had to head to South Africa with the likes of Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and Josh van der Flier out. They beat the Springboks in Cape Town after playing 60 minutes with only 14 men. Murray helped himself to another try and had a superb game.

Conor Murray 18/6/2016

Ireland lost that series 2-1 but the historic Cape Town win [first away victory in South Africa] was eclipsed by the already famous November 5 win over New Zealand in Chicago. Murray ran in his ninth Test try in that 40-29 triumph as he made opposite number Aaron Smith look distinctly second best.

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He had a tougher time of it in Dublin as the All Blacks avenged that Soldier Field loss but was crucial in helping Ireland end the year on a high in a thrilling win over Australia.

So many highs and so many top performances but, for O'Driscoll, Murray stands tallest. He tells us:

"There have been a few great, stand-out performers but I think Conor Murray has been exceptional in green and red. He has been one of the top performers for Munster and has been a key leader in everything good they do.

"He has formed a really good partnership with Tyler Bleyendaal and they've managed to turn their season around after the very untimely death of Anthony Foley... That's great for Munster and it is great for Irish rugby as it provides a lot of competition for places."

O'Driscoll also brings up Murray's other crucial interventions in that Chicago victory - kicking a penalty when Sexton was down getting treatment and making the kick-chase and tackle that won Ireland a scrum just before Robbie Henshaw's clincher. He says:

"Ireland beating the All Blacks was pretty impressive. The fact that we gave them a sniff and then shut the door was the most satisfying aspect of it. There looked to be an inevitability to it - leading by four and then were we going to cough it up at the end?

"But then to go down to the other end where we could control the game.

"Good quality defence putting them under pressure. Conor Murray getting the five-metre scrum and us scoring from that, and the game was over... We beat a very All Blacks style game that day and beat them at their own game."

Beating them at their own game with the best No.9 in the game.

O'Driscoll is convinced and he has made a pretty convincing case.