Conor Murray driven by 2015 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina
Scrumhalf believes heavy warm-up defeat to England was just a blip
Scrumhalf Conor Murray, who will compete in his third World Cup tournament, during training at Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Along with his two Lions tours, Conor Murray’s two previous World Cups are benchmarks for his career to date. The naming of the 31-man squad on Monday brought back memories of the start to his journey as a Test scrumhalf.
Back in 2011, he was the 22-year-old bolter, coming from fifth choice scrumhalf in pre-season to make the cut as, seemingly, the third scrumhalf ahead of Peter Stringer and Tomás O’Leary, before finishing it as first choice when starting the final pool game against Italy and the quarter-final against Wales.
“I remember getting the call to come in. I’d got a run toward the end of the previous season with Munster, we won the Magners and in my head, being honest, I just thought it was an opportunity to come in and sponge off everyone and try and learn.”
“And in a way that kind of made me less nervous. I was obviously nervous coming in here but it just let me relax and train as hard as I could and do as best as I could. Then I got a couple of opportunities.”
“Yeah, it was a massive turning point, or start to my career. It boosted me a little bit and it gave me a little bit of a head start to let me get on to that level early. I suppose it was sink or swim.”
“We were disappointed to go out of the World Cup in a quarter-final, but personally, from that experience I think I gained an awful lot. World Cups are massive and I suppose 2015 was even bigger again. I had more of a realisation of how big they are and how hard you have to work. In 2011 I kind of got in there without really understanding what it took to make a squad. In 2015 I understood it a bit more, and this time around I’m fully aware of what can lie ahead and what an opportunity we have.”
That’s why, Murray believes, winning in Cardiff last Saturday was so important for the squad to “build a bit of confidence. This weekend again is even bigger again, that we keep moving in the right direction. Hopefully there’s a few more lads getting a bit more game time and we continue to grow and get this squad performing at a level that we definitely can.”
By 2015, Murray was 26 and a much more established international, and accordingly, the quarter-final loss to Argentina cut deeper.
“I remember after that World Cup being really disappointed and hurt by that, and I’m sure a lot of people who were there that day still feel the same. Those memories aren’t great because they went from the last group game against France in that Millennium Stadium, and one of the best feelings ever, that atmosphere and getting the win, and just feeling that we had a great chance.
“We took a few injuries and then the opposite feeling the week after even though it was the same, sold-out, unbelievable atmosphere, but we just gave them a headstart. That’s a massive thing for us as a group, just starting well in games. It just goes such a long way to determining your performance and hopefully the result.”
“Yep, I look back on that quarter-final with a bit of a regret. That’s got to be a bit of drive there and a bit of motivation for me personally and I’m sure the lads who were there in that game will have the same feeling. It doesn’t dominate you but it has to be in your mind a little bit, that disappointment, and that’s what we’ve had in the first eight weeks of training, the determination and the willingness to train and work as hard as you can, and try to get yourself in the best shape and condition you can be in.
“The eight weeks were brilliant. The Italy game, we got the win there, and then the England game, I just really feel it was a blip. Something happened, or we were under-cooked or whatever. That’s why last week was so big and hopefully we can go again this weekend and leave these shores with a good mindset.”