YESTERDAY, HE SUITED UP for the job, twice.
Conor Murray cannot wait for the start of the season, when he can pull on the jersey for real.
Waiting, however, is just something he’ll just have to put up with for at least another month.
That’s part of the necessary evil of a successful Lions tour. Yet it’s that same tour which makes rushing back so appealing; strike while the iron is hot.
“Coming back into Munster now,” Murray says as he shelter from the Limerick rain with a phone, “you almost feel like a bit of an outsider because the lads are six weeks into their pre-season.”
Although Warren Gatland elected not to offer the Test number nine shirt his way, Murray’s impact from the bench in two Tests was undeniable. Particularly the cameo in the pivotal third encounter which delivered the Lions a long overdue series win.
“The feeling of coming on at high-pressure moments and getting the win was something I’ll never forget. It just makes you want to play in the big games, because the rewards are bigger when you get there and it makes you hungry to play more.”
Before he even left Irish shores, Murray spoke of how we was learning from his peers and improving while working alongside Mike Phillips, a man he must surely be sick of being compared to. Now that he’s back, he hasn’t so much learned at the coattails of a master, as watch a nemesis in action.
“The whole Australian team pretty much base their whole game around him,” he says of Will Genia. “To see him first hand is going to be another invaluable experience for me – analysing the way he plays, you really see how good he is and appreciate what he does.“
This November, he will hope to renew acquaintances with the Reds playmaker and, for the third time in four attempts, emerge on the winning side.
Yesterday, the 24-year-old’s focus was turned back to the international scene as the first mini-camp under the new coach convened at Carton House. Joe Schmidt may have met with provincial coaches to discuss a broad tactical approach, but on this occasion with the players Murray says “we barely scratched the surface,” on the new Ireland game plan.
Although Ireland’s change in approach will be much less dramatic than the one Munster began last year, the change in approach may well feel eerily familiar to the Limerick man.
“I think last year it took us a bit of time to get used to the game plan – as the season went on we brought in things that we were comfortable with the things Rob had brought in we saw a nice balance.
“Towards the end of the season, especially decision-makers were feeling a lot more comfortable about how we wanted to play. Everyone had a clear idea about what we wanted to do when we went onto the pitch.”
That unity of purpose, Murray says, has seamlessly carried over to the new season.
“They look incredibly sharp – You need everyone to know exactly what we’re trying to do in certain areas of the pitch and that’s there at an early point in pre-season.”
One element, a strength, which Munster have not been able to carry over due to natural forces beyond their control, is experience. Despite his age, the flight of Ronan O’Gara has instantly made Murray Munster’s senior playmaker.
With captain Doug Howlett also calling It a day and taking his bottomless pit of experience out of the side, the southern province will need more like Murray to stand up fight when the pressure is on.
“Looking around the team room,” Murray says. “There are a number of players at a similar age to me and probably a similar level of experience.
“They’re going to step up this year. I don’t think there’s any fear of that happening. We’ve been brought up in the right way with Munster, we’ve got good values to hold to and I think the players are excited about leading this team forward.”
The Munster jersey and kit is available to buy from the 23rd August in all LifeStyle Sports Stores and online.