A WINGER WHO doesn’t score tries is always an easy target for criticism, and the fact that Johne Murphy has never been prolific at crossing the whitewash means he has often been undervalued.
However, a hugely visible start to the season has pushed the Kildare man back into the public consciousness after an injury-riddled and anonymous campaign last time out.
Murphy was one of Munster’s top performers in their two opening RaboDirect Pro12 wins against Edinburgh and Zebre, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Rob Penney’s side missed his incisive presence in the second-half collapse against Treviso last weekend. The 28-year-old looks to be in the best shape of his life and has barely put a foot wrong so far this season.
Now in his fourth year with the province, Murphy admits that he is pleased with his form and hopes to get another chance to impress against the Dragons at Musgrave Park on Saturday evening. Staying away from the physio’s room has been the key to his good start.
“It’s been completely different to where I was last year with the injury. I had an injury-free pre-season and I think I’ve started pretty well. It’s about continuing that form and trying to kick on even more and really nail down a spot.”
Murphy has been pigeonholed as a solid back three player in recent seasons, offering defensive stability and work rate. However, the wins against Edinburgh and Zebre saw the former Leicester Tigers man step into a far more influential role. His scything break to set up Paddy Butler’s try against the Italian side was a particular highlight and a good example of the quality he has brought.
YouTube credit: RaboDirect PRO12
The burst of pace Murphy showed to break through the defensive line in the video above has been a somewhat surprising feature of his performances, and he certainly looks to have shed a couple of kilograms during pre-season. Murphy is happy to reveal that doing so was one of his objectives.
“Yeah, that was one of my main goals this year, and to get as fit as I could because it was my first injury-free pre-season, so I could really go after things. It’s important that I’ve had a good pre-season underneath my belt for the first time for a while.”
Immaculate under the high ball and as solid as ever in defence, another feature of Murphy’s two outings so far has been his willingness to step in as first receiver in attack. Penney’s attacking patterns mean that all backs must be comfortable with play making responsibility and Murphy has delivered in that regard. His intelligent grubber for the James Coughlan try against Edinburgh is a good example.
YouTube credit: RaboDirect PRO12
It’s all well and good performing against two of the weakest teams in the league, but Murphy must now demonstrate that he can hit those heights on a consistent basis. He may get another chance this weekend against Munster’s Welsh opponents and he is well aware of the competition out wide at the province this season.
The likes of Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Denis Hurley, Andrew Conway and Ronan O’Mahony are already jostling for selection, with Felix Jones and Luke O’Dea back from injury soon. South African speedster Gerhard van den Heever arrives in November to complicate matters further. Murphy feels that he must simply focus on maintaining his own form.
“I think I’ve started well and it really is about keeping the good vein of form that I’m in at the moment and really pushing for a starting spot against Leinster. There’s so much competition. Felix is kind of back in the mix and guys like that. So it’s really important for everyone and especially on an individual level, it’s huge for me.”
That Leinster game in two weekends’ time will likely be a practice run for the opening Heineken Cup clash away to Edinburgh, so the players will be desperate to feature. But first, Murphy and Munster need to deal with the Dragons in Cork. The winger is fully aware that his side will have to improve on last weekend’s disappointment.
“It’s a big test, a big physical test. They bring a lot in defence especially with their line speed so we’ll have to combat that with our execution and pick that up massively compared to where we were last week.”
Audio provided by Live 95FM.