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29th May 2021

“You want to prove them wrong, even if they’re not telling the right story” – Conor Murray

Patrick McCarry

Conor Murray

“I had no idea. It was such a weird build-up. Over the last few years, with injuries and all that, I was really nervous.”

Conor Murray making the British & Irish Lions squad – now that it has happened for a third time – is one of those occurrences that, in retrospect, seem inevitable. In reality, his selection was anything but.

Having broken into the Lion Test squad in 2013 and started all three of the 2017 games against the All Blacks, Warren Gatland clearly sees what every coach that has ever worked with Murray sees. At his very best, he is commanding and has the game on a string.

Those that have followed Murray’s fortunes over the past two years, however, will be aware that he was far from a sure thing to make the Lions squad to tour South Africa, this summer.

The man himself admits he was asking serious questions about where he stood in the Ireland mix, as recently as mid March. The Lions were somewhat of a pipe-dream, back then.

Murray may have been in decent form for Munster, heading into the Six Nations, but many Irish fans were keen for a change. Jamison Gibson-Park and John Cooney were pushing him for his starting berth while Craig Casey was a clear and present threat, at Munster. Murray started the away defeat to Wales but Gibson-Park then got three starts in a row.

When Ireland beat Scotland at Murrayfield, on March 14, Murray and Billy Burns were unused subs. England would be coming to Dublin, six days later, and Murray was desperate to be part of the welcoming party.

On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 8:30 below], Murray spoke frankly about a chat he had with Farrell before the England game, and how it focused him on what he needed to do.

“It’s no so secret that there’s been criticism over the last couple of years,” admitted Conor Murray.

“That frustrated me, at times, because I didn’t agree with quite a lot of it. But you do want to prove them wrong, even if they’re not telling the right story. So that motivated me, quite a bit.”

Murray admits a neck injury he sustained in 2017 did not fully go away and it affected how much he carried and sniped with the ball, particularly in 2019. More confident with the state of his body, over the past 12 months, you can see the confidence seep back into his game.

It was all the more frustrating, then, when a hamstring tweak saw him sidelined for two Six Nations games. He did not get off the bench against Scotland and it was jarring.

“Because of the way the Scotland game went,” he recalled, “I think Johnny had a knock and Garry had done his ankle, and I didn’t end up coming on… but Andy came up to me on the Tuesday and said, ‘You’re going to start. I know you’re ready’.”

Steeled by that, Murray was dead-eye focused on making an impact against an English side that had won their previous four encounters with Ireland.

The whole squad, he said, were dialled right up, and in, for the visit of Eddie Jones’ side:

“You need to play in a big game in the Six Nations to put yourself in the shop window. So, when that game came around, I felt a lot more pressure.

“With the Ireland squad, competition has gone up an awful lot recently. And having not started three of the Six Nations games, I put a lot of pressure on myself.”

“In an England week,” he continued, “there’s no need for a motivational talk. That’s already taken care of. The motivation and passion is going to be there. But we were really keen to put a really complete performance together, and not take our foot off the pedal if we got a chance in the game.”

So it proved. Ireland raced into a 26-0 lead after a mightily impressive first 60 minutes, and ended up winning 32-18 to finish third in the table, but in a much better place.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland has since stated that the Ireland win over England convinced him to bring Jack Conan and Bundee Aki on tour. It will have surely settled his mind on bringing Murray on tour again, too.

As confident as many Irish fans and pundits were that Murray would make the cut, the man himself was not so sure.

“We had our [Munster] captain’s run that morning, at Thomond, and lads were looking to meet up, to watch it together. I was like, ‘I just need to get away. I’m watching it on my own’.

“Andrew Conway followed me home, as he knew I’d want a few of the fellas around, and Joanna [my partner] was here. We watched it unfold. They dragged it out with a few speeches at the start, but my name came out, in the backs, pretty early. It was an incredible feeling.

“I think this one means the most, as I probably had to work the hardest for this one, over the last four years, with ups and downs. It was a massive relief, and something I really wanted.”


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