They’re a pretty unique group, players who have combined their sporting careers with completing their studies in medicine. Now, into that select band featuring Felipe Contepomi, Jamie Roberts and the Dublin Gaelic footballer Jack McCaffrey amongst others, can be added the Leinster backrower Josh Murphy.
It’s a particularly tough balancing act given the need to manage training with intern work but as of last week Murphy finally completed his studies. His relief is palpable.
“I finished my last exam for college last week, so all done for now until further exams in the future, whenever I’m working. College took a while, I was in there for about eight years, so I’m going to focus on rugby at the moment and take my time to go into the medicine.”
Studying for his final exams in the last few months had been so intense that he confessed: “I didn’t really know what to do with myself on my first day off. I might have to start learning Spanish or something!”
The way Murphy describes it, the last few months might have proved too much for some people, although he played down this load.
“For the finals there was a broad range of things that you had to cover which you’d learned over the last few years so it was hard to focus my energy on one thing.”
He couldn’t put a number on the hours per week he devoted to his studies.
“Sometimes you’ve to go into hospital, (but) I kind of didn’t count that as study. So probably two days a week going around hospital talking to patients and talking to doctors. And the actual hours of study? Oh, I couldn’t put a number on it, it depends on how much procrastinating I did that week.”
For now, he is content to park his career in medicine and focus on his rugby, although Murphy never let his studies affect his development at Leinster.
“I tried to ensure that it wasn’t affecting me because it wouldn’t be fair to the team or the coaches to be coming in under prepared. Sometimes study-wise, you might have felt like you missed out, but both of them actually, when you look back on it, offset each other nicely. I was hard at the books for the last few weeks, so coming into training was actually a nice break from it.”
In actual fact this season has been his most productive on a rugby field. The St Michael’s product, whose 13 caps for the Irish Under-20s took in two Junior World Championships in 2013 and 2014, made his initial breakthrough into the Leinster team in his third and final season, 2017-18, in the province’s academy.
Three weeks after his debut off the bench against Glasgow in November 2017, Murphy marked his first start with a try-scoring man of the match display in a win over the Dragons.
His dozen starts this season, along with a couple off the bench, eclipse the 11 he made in 2018-19 and nine in 2019-20. He’s also scored a seasonal high of three tries already, including one in his full Champions Cup debut as a late call-up from the bench for an injured Caelan Doris in the win over Northampton last December.
Hitting the ground running
Barely two minutes into the game, with his first touch, following Garry Ringrose’s break off a trademark Leinster scrum move going right to left, Murphy steamed onto Jamison Gibson-Park’s pass off the recycle with a hard line to score. Talk about hitting the ground running.
“You want to be playing all those big games and you want to be playing as many games as possible. I am happy with how the season has gone but you always want more. The more minutes you play, the more you want again. You don’t ever want to be left out. Always room for improvement on that front I think.”
Just shy of two metres at 6’ 6”, Murphy is an athletic blindside and lineout option in the mould of a Tadhg Beirne or Kevin McLoughlin who throws his 110kg/17st 4lbs around. While predominantly a number 6, he’s also played three times at lock and twice at ‘8’, and with Scott Fardy moving on perhaps there might be more appearances in the secondrow.
Although 26, you sense his best is still to come, and not just because he’s now a fully-fledged professional rugby player, albeit he reckons the primary benefit will be to make more use of his recovery time.
On top of finishing his finals, last week’s win over Connacht marked his seventh start since the end of January.
He’s been a busy lad and when you ask him which is tougher, breaking into the Leinster backrow or completing a degree in medicine he says good-naturedly: “The Leinster backrow at the moment, I think! Is that a loaded question? It’s hugely competitive in the Leinster backrow. I suppose if you come last in the class in medicine, they still call you a doctor.”