Conor Murray excited by Six Nations after nailing down Munster future
Ireland scrumhalf enjoys benefits of IRFU system and never considered going abroad
Scrumhalf Conor Murray takes a selfie with young supporters during Ireland’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Contract-wrangling used to be a relatively private affair in Irish rugby, with the odd exception. Now, it has managed to find a more public forum as players look for more leverage.
It’s rare that a player coming to the end of his contract isn’t sought after by a handful of clubs but it’s most uncommon to find one who enters negotiations by stating unequivocally that he wants to stay put.
Conor Murray did just that and on Wednesday the IRFU confirmed that he had a agreed a three-year central contract: player, province and country were delighted at the outcome.
The 26-year-old Munster and Ireland scrumhalf provided an insight into his thought process on the matter. He explained that he didn’t want to go abroad, had never explored that option and that the process was relatively stress-free. He also spoke about the attractions of playing with Munster.
“I think we’re well looked after here, and then off the pitch the set up we have, if we’re talking internationally, it’s brilliant. Especially with an IRFU contract, your game time is managed really, really well and the provinces respect that and get on with it.
“I love the system, I love the set up, Ireland has been brilliant over the last couple of seasons and I want to continue to be part of that. Munster? I truly believe there’s something there to build on, and with Earlsy [Keith Earls] signing on now, it’s a boost for us; it’s great, so I want to stay around.”
Players chat about everything and contracts are no exception; they know the going rate and have a sense of self- worth. Murray was asked about his close friend Simon Zebo, who is currently in contract negotiations. “Obviously I hope he stays, he’s a great player.
“He’s a player that puts bums on seats for us, an entertainer, a world-class winger on his day and he’d be hugely valuable for us going forward. If you asked me do I know? I don’t know. But I certainly hope he does because that makes our bond stronger with Munster.”
He pointed to the support the team received in the recent Champions Cup victory over Stade Francais when he was struck by the overwhelming feeling of goodwill towards the team, adding that previous criticism was justified, based on performances and results, but that most of the feedback from the stands was supportive.
Murray ventured: “It’s a little bit different now with Paulie’s voice missing but Bestie was one of those voices for as long as I’ve been involved with Ireland. So he’s just taken a bit more of a step-up vocally and is leading the team.
“The likes of Jamie [Heaslip], Johnny [Sexton], Seánie [O’Brien] are still there and we’ve all done it together before and we have a good understanding of each other.
“Paulie is a big part of our chain that’s missing but that’s the challenge, you can’t say it’s perfect now; we’re going to find out in the next few weeks whether we’ve done well getting on without him.
“I’m fully confident that we can but the proof will be in the pudding.”
The post-World Cup disappointment has been replaced by a resolution to win a third successive Six Nations. There isn’t going to be any major reconstruction and Murray suggests that Ireland were unfairly labelled conservative in terms of playing patterns.
“No, I think we have a really good system. I think we did get a little bit of stick after the World Cup but if you look at the stats, we’re not a conservative team at all. In terms of holding ball-in-hand and passes completed we were right up there during the World Cup.
“So I think it’s a false kind of view of our team. I think we’re fully confident in how we can play, and how we can score tries and create chances. With Les [Kiss] gone, the defence will be a little bit different. Joe [Schmidt] and Simon [Easterby] are really taking control of that, as are players; they’re used to the system, used to playing and defending with each other.
“So there’s a lot of good stuff there but we have to work quite hard to finish off in those little areas where we’re trying to improve on.”