Conor Murray refreshed for Heineken Cup clash against Harlequins
Scrumhalf reveals “we’re not unaware of people writing us off”
Folklore has it that Munster often perform poorly before going into the Heineken Cup. All the better too, if they are written off and put into backs-against-the-wall mode. Whereupon, cue the Heineken Cup, they roll their sleeves up, send for the cavalry, dip into their deep Euro reservoir for inspiration and shred their previous form line to produce an epic win.
There have been countless examples of this during the pool stages, such as losing their long unbeaten record at Thomond Park to Edinburgh in October, 2006, by 21-10, and a week later beating Leicester in Welford Road.
Of their nine quarter-final wins in the Heineken Cup, five have been preceded by defeats, to Leicester in a friendly, Castres, the Celtic Warriors, Ulster and Leinster.
“By record Munster apparently don’t perform the week before Heineken quarter-finals,” noted scrumhalf Conor Murray this week, before adding dryly “and we definitely ticked that box.”
The 16-15 defeat to Leinster at Thomond Park three seasons ago prompted all manner of doom and gloom, not least when word spread like bushfire on the morning of the game that Paul O’Connell had been ruled out, only for Mick O’Driscoll to step in and Munster stormed to a 33-19 win.
Then again, last season’s 18-9 defeat to Leinster at Thomond Park was the precursor to Ulster beating them at the same venue in the quarters and a week later. And even by Munster’s standards, there’s never been such a demoralising blow to their collective morale a week out from a big European game as last Friday’s 51-24 defeat in Glasgow.
“Overall, yeah, we are disappointed with how last week went,” conceded Murray. “But in saying that, obviously the scoreline is unbelievably disappointing – it’s a hammering if you look at it – but three intercept tries is 21 points that you didn’t do from playing poorly, it’s just we were trying to play and they’re just unfortunate.”
“I know you can’t be giving them away but at the end of the day we did give away three of them, which is pretty freakish in a game like that. I was watching the game at home and looking at the first 50 minutes, I thought we were doing a lot of really good things. I was getting out of my seat at times with some of the play we were getting through. Even defensively we were really hungry so they’re the things we’re trying to focus on this week and trying to get the mistakes out of the way.
“Obviously we’re going to have to tighten up in areas like giving away intercepts and falling off tackles, which we’re not used to doing.”
To that end defence coach Anthony Foley has been cracking the whip this week. “He’s been quite harsh on people and people aren’t going to slip up this week, you hope.”
Murray has been refreshed by being rested since the Six Nations and says he has “switched back into club mode”, though this has meant reacquainting himself with the Munster calls. Nevertheless, the reverberations of the Six Nations were still being felt in the departure of Declan Kidney.
“It’s disappointing to see him go. Declan gave me my chance and my first cap, he’s been really good to me. I wish him all the best. I’m sure I’ll chat to him down the line and say thanks for everything.”
Murray noted a number of key players in Harlequins ranks, such as Mike Brown, Nick Easter and Nick Evans, rather than focus on one but he’ll have his hands full with Danny Care, scorer of four tries in the pool stages and a quicker, more sniping threat than most nines around. “Yeah, yeah, he loves a snipe close into the ruck and any quick penalty or anything like that, if you see the ref has called advantage he’ll probably ask for the penalty straight away and then go. So we’ve had a few drills to look after that.”
Murray revealed “we’re not unaware of people writing us off” and this, along with a revenge motive in the form of the “shock to the system” that was the Challenge Cup semi-final defeat in his Thomond Park Euro debut two seasons ago, were other motivational tools being used in the build-up to this game.
“Speaking to some of the older players, seasons can go on quite long and can have their ups and downs,” he added. “From speaking to them, this is a huge game and it could be a great day so you’ve just got to gee yourself up for that and get energised about it in training, and try to gee up some of the lads who might be feeling the defeat still, get them excited about what could potentially happen at the weekend.”