Conor Murray admits he has been ‘lucky’ to play for Ireland at four World Cups, with the scrum-half set to win his 109th cap against Tonga… as he reveals his dad is back to full health after a serious accident last year
- Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray is playing in his fourth World Cup for his nation
- Murray has come a long way since his first World Cup in New Zealand in 2011
- Andy Farrell’s side are one of the favourites for the tournament behind France
- Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results
From Queenstown in 2011, where he went from unlikely pick to starter in little more than a month, Conor Murray has arrived in Nantes.
An early-autumn heatwave has followed Ireland north from Bordeaux, but the rain that has clattered home into submission over the past 24 hours is expected to break over this Atlantic city today.
It won’t deter the Irish supporters, among whom will be members of Murray’s family, including his father Gerry.
Gerry Murray was involved in a serious accident last February when out cycling near his home. He was in collision with a truck and suffered significant head injuries.
Conor was in Ireland camp preparing for round two of the Six Nations, after starting the opening win in Wales. He briefly left the Irish base to be with his father and family, but as the condition of Gerry Murray stabilised, he returned and started the win against France in the Aviva Stadium.
Despite personal and team challenges, Conor Murray will earn his 109th cap against Tonga
After debuting under Declan Kidney, and in an age still dominated by the Big Os – Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, and Ronan O’Gara – Murray thrived under Joe Schmidt
Now, after following his son’s stellar career around the world, he is part of the Murray contingent that will be present at the Stade de la Beaujoire in the city tonight.
‘Yeah, it’s great. He’s in good health and he’s back golfing and doing everything he loves,’ says the veteran scrum half.
‘It’s great that he’s able to do it.’ Murray’s father arrived via ferry earlier in the week, but there have been more exotic trips required to track his son’s progress from Munster prospect to Test centurion and Lion lynchpin.
When he spoke to a group of us at Ireland’s pre-tournament base on New Zealand’s South Island this time 12 years ago, Murray was largely unknown beyond the province.
He wins his 109th cap against Tonga tonight. ‘The journey, I’ve talked about it before, about coming through and getting in for 2011,’ he says.
‘Where I am now, it’s my fourth World Cup, people have mentioned that and I’m aware of it, but I just really appreciate where I am and I’m really grateful for the opportunities.
‘I am really lucky to have made four. I’ve seen in every cycle that people fall out through injury or through favour or form.’
After debuting under Declan Kidney, and in an age still dominated by the Big Os – Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, and Ronan O’Gara – Murray thrived under Joe Schmidt.
Murray’s dad, Gerry, overcame a serious accident when he collided with a truck when cycling
Ireland have headed into the Rugby World Cup as one of the favourites behind hosts France
Andy Farrell’s desire to play a higher-tempo, less rigidly structured game led him to Jamison Gibson-Park, but Murray has not fallen off the chase.
He has had challenges at Munster, too, including not making the squad for a European match last season. But maintaining standards and simply enduring should not be under-valued.
‘I’m really lucky to be part of a squad, especially this one,’ he says. ‘They’ve all been great craic and they have all been talented squads, but this one ticks a lot of those boxes, the camaraderie we have.
‘I hope that shows from the inside out. We don’t need to talk about that, we’re a really tight group.’ In 2011, he edged ever-more central in a campaign whose pool stages couldn’t have gone better, with Australia stunned and the potentially hazardous challenge of Italy expertly handled.
A first semi-final seemed, if not cast-iron, then within closer reach than it had ever been before. Then Wales unpicked Ireland’s attacking threat, chop-tackling Stephen Ferris and Sean O’Brien on a night of dismal familiarity in Wellington.
This time, like the last time, and all the ones before, the ambition to do better is palpable.
‘Pre-season is a tricky one where the games start off pretty quickly and then you’re into new combinations,’ he says of Ireland’s occasionally jerky form in recent weeks, ‘compared to where we left off in the Six Nations and having a big run of form over eight weeks, but we’d like to think we’re definitely getting there.
‘There were huge positives from the Romania game in terms of our shape and how we went about our business there.
Andy Farrell’s team are hoping to reach the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time
‘Defensively, I’m sure we’re going to get tested a bit more as the weeks go on so that’s an area we’re really aware of in training.
‘I think we’re in a good spot there but it comes down to when you come up against these teams and the tests that you face, and it’s going to get tougher each week, but I think I said it after the Samoa game, we feel that we’re in a really good spot.
‘It’s just about showing it on the Saturdays now.’ And this is the first of a trio that will decide Ireland’s fate. The stakes are getting bigger. Murray knows these conditions.
He’s negotiated them before – and much more trying ones, too.
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