‘It was probably the toughest seven minutes of rugby I’ve ever played’
Jordi Murphy reflects on his first Ireland cap as he prepares to take on Munster
Jordi Murphy: “It’s always the ultimate test against Munster.”
When Jordi Murphy heard his name called out on that Tuesday morning he matter-of-factly accepted a reality that had been a childhood dream (at least since moving to Dublin from Barcelona as a nine year old).
“It took a few seconds to sink in and then I realised, okay, Twickenham this weekend, hopefully I’ll get a run-out.”
Not that it wasn’t earned, but a feeling existed that Tommy O’Donnell had done nothing to deserve exclusion. The Munster flanker’s athleticism was seen in Toronto last summer and off the bench against Scotland and Wales.
Even tonight Shane Jennings, Leinster organiser-in-chief, keeps Murphy benched as O’Donnell wears red number seven.
But the rise of Jordi – named by his Catalonian-dwelling parents after the patron saint of the region, alá Johan Cruyff’s son – seems imminent.
Outstanding performances at number eight around the turn of the year and the ability to be a linking flanker makes him the ideal impact player.
But that Tuesday morning last month was the biggest leap yet for the 22-year-old.
“I was thinking ‘why would he change it after winning two games in a row?,’” said Murphy this week at an Under Armour gig in Santry Stadium where he rubbed shoulders with Donegal captain Michael Murphy (the rare sight of a Gaelic footballer being slightly bigger than a rugby player).
“Before the team announcement Joe lets you know if you haven’t made it. Before England he didn’t say anything to me.
“There was no point getting my hopes up as they could be shattered straight away. Then he called my name out . . . ”
We know what happened next. The one that got away; caught in the maelstrom of English power.
Murphy waded into the last seven minutes of it.
“I thought I did okay. I was nervous before the game and everything like that but grand during the warm-up. When my name was called I was straight on the job.”
Schmidt mantras are embedded in his brain.
Get on the ball. Inject some energy.
“That is what Joe always wants from his subs.”
So much happened from the moment he stalled on the touchline until standing over the white rubble where Gordon D’Arcy was buried 10 minutes later.
“It was probably the toughest seven minutes of rugby I’ve ever played.”
After a pat on the back from Ireland manager Mick Kearney, himself and Seán Cronin entered the most brutal of rugby environments in the 74th minute. A battered Chris Henry made way as Iain Henderson had already relieved the hamstrung Peter O’Mahony.
Lineout on halfway. Cronin hits Paul O’Connell and Murphy is immediately driving the maul.
Schmidt’s Ireland in freeze frame. Inject some energy.
75th minute. Ireland counter-attack. Jordi hits a ruck. Secures the ball. Hits another ruck. And another.
77th minute: He carries and is tackled by the day’s outstanding performer Joe Launchbury. Next he trucks up as part of a three-man pod. Then he’s a pillar on the far side of the field. Back inside Ireland’s 22, Conor Murray sends him crashing into two English behemoths. He refuses to be grounded until outside Ireland’s 22.
‘Swing Low’ is reverberating around the ground.
Play has gone left, right, left, right, up and back down the field since his arrival.
This is Test rugby.
The toughest seven minutes?
“Without a doubt. You can tell straight away. But I loved it.”
79th minute: Ireland attack wide right again. Henderson carries half a yard. Murray flings it to his outhalf. But Murphy is there. He quickly feeds D’Arcy who finds Dave Kearney. Launchbury’s tap-tackle stops Kearney. Mike Brown is over the ball. Jordi arrives and removes the England fullback. Jack McGrath humps it up the middle.
Manic rugby. It goes right and close to England’s 22. Turnover. Jonny May clears it way down field. Stuart Lancaster leaps from his seat with a roar.
80th minute: O’Connell calls another five-man lineout. England collapse the maul. Brian O’Driscoll leaves the field. Sexton punts it up to the 10-metre line. Last play. O’Connell off the top. D’Arcy carries into midfield traffic, Jordi is trailing him, but Ben Morgan, Owen Farrell and Chris Robshaw are there. Jordi drives into a mass of bodies. The clock turns red. Craig Joubert yells, ‘Maul’. The choke is locked. Murphy is spat out the side. England scrum. No need. All over.
“It was incredibly disappointing to come off the pitch after a loss but I had my first cap.”
Another seven minutes came against Italy yet in Paris 22 of the 23 Ireland players entered the fray. “When we won I was ecstatic just to be part of it.”
He doesn’t seem like a happy-to-be-there kind of guy but amidst the delirium of that night he put it all into context.
“Eighteen months ago I had four caps off the bench for Leinster and now I have two caps for Ireland and a Six Nations-winning medal [which he accidentally gave away to a very loyal supporter].”
Not that this is an overnight success story. The country’s outstanding schoolboy forward in 2009, Murphy was denied a clean route into professionalism despite captaining an outstanding Blackrock side that has produced five professionals (Andrew Conway, Brendan Macken, Denis Buckley and Dave Heffernan).
As Conway and Macken were whisked into the Leinster academy, Murphy was sent to Dave Fagan’s hurt locker.
“When I came out of school I was delighted to be with Leinster but my two best mates were in the academy so part of me was thinking I’d love to be there as well.
“To be honest I think it was a blessing that I went into the sub academy. I definitely wasn’t big enough.
Rhys [Ruddock] and Dominic [Ryan], while they still are bigger than me, they were significantly bigger than me back then.
“Dave put some muscle on me.”
“I’m not the smallest backrow to play international rugby,” he dryly responds, exuding the natural confidence of a high achiever.
In a world without Seán O’Brien he would exclusively play seven. At 6ft 2ins and 106kg he’s the same build as the greatest openside of them all. Without comparing them, it’s also worth noting that Richie McCaw has been playing a fair share at number eight in recent seasons.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘You will have to focus on one or the other’, but my versatility has gotten me this far so I don’t see why I can’t specialise in two positions.”
Tonight comes O’Donnell, O’Mahony, O’Connell and some embittered Munster men. Different to Twickenham but the same intensity.
“It’s always the ultimate test against Munster. I know everyone is focusing on the next couple of weeks but these are the games when you play against your competition for the international team so it is a mini-trial as well.”
What’s been has passed. Time to prove it all over again. He should get more than seven minutes.