RUGBY PLAYERS RARELY, if ever, welcome injuries but Conor Murray must not look back on his knee knock in March 2012 with too much regret.
Still finding his feet in the Ireland set-up, Murray was ruled out of his country’s visit to face England at Twickenham having limped out of the away draw with France. Eoin Reddan played with a back-pedalling pack that day. The situation was beyond repair by the time Tomás O’Leary came off the bench for the last of his 24 caps. Ireland lost 30-9 and Murray’s reputation soared in absentia.
“Looking back,” he said, “it was a bit of a tough day. The scrum, in particular, probably did get dismantled. The lads have been looking back on it and may have a bit of a point to prove… It was a bit of a hiding last time around so that’s an area we’d be looking to address. Definitely.”
Murray, three years into his Ireland career, has little left to prove yet is improving all the time. He has added a try-scoring threat to his game, refined his box-kicking and can up his pass tempo when the mood fits. He started the Lions Tour as third-choice scrum-half and was Warren Gatland’s closer by the time Tests two and three were up for decision.
He out-foxed Lions teammate Mike Phillips, of Wales, last time out but there will be no Aussie reunion with Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs, who currently finds himself out of international favour. “The competition there with Danny Care and Lee Dickson is pretty tough so I’m not surprised that they’re in ahead of him if they are playing well. Maybe Ben has struggled a bit this year but he’s a quality player and could feature again in this Six Nations.”
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Youngs omission is part of a revamp to the England team. That includes a rake of new faces in the backline, such as Luther Burrell, Jack Nowell and Care, mean “fearless” England have threats all over the park. “The lads, Nowell on one wing and Johnny May on the other, are playing heads up rugby and really enjoying it,” said Murray. “I played against May, and Gloucester, a couple of weeks back and he was a real threat, especially in broken play or hunting on the edges of our defensive line.”
While England represent Ireland’s toughest match so far, in Murray’s opinion, they can be beaten. “There’s a Triple Crown on the line and that’s a great position to be in,” he said. “You do think about it but Joe [Schmidt] has put us right this week and we’re knuckling down with hard work, training and training to get as well prepared as we can. We know how hard it will be but, at the end of the day, if we pull it off then great.”
Unlike many of the Leinster and Ulster players in the squad, the Limerick native has yet to play in Twickenham but has faced hostile away day atmospheres in England before and knows what to expect on Saturday. He commented, “England have quite a huge pack and they rate themselves in the breakdown and set-piece so our forwards, and backs as well, have been looking closely at the threats they will bring. It’s probably a step up again [from Scotland and Wales.”