Since his exploits with the Lions last Summer, Conor Murray entered the new season with the reputation of a world-class player. Come the turn of the new year, some of the victorious Lions players were fatigued such as George North and Ben Youngs. Training and playing with other Lions resulted in a positive experience for the Ireland and Munster scrum-half. Even with the injuries in the 2013/14 season, he maintained a consistent high standard throughout.
During the defeat against Toulon in the Heineken Cup Quarter-Final, Conor Murray was not at his best, yet he remained solid and an attacking threat. Of course others came close to Irish player of the season. Rob Kearney, was mightily impressive in the Six Nations. In every match the Leinster man topped the metres gained charts for Ireland. However, his provincial form has suffered. He has played 9 games in the RaboDirect Pro 12 with no points and only one drop-goal to his name in the Heineken Cup.
Conversely, Murray’s Munster teammate Ian Keatley’s impeccable influence for club was not repaid with a call-up by national head coach Joe Schmidt. Keatley presently is top in the Heineken Cup for most conversions (18). Jamie Heaslip is another close call. He features in the top 5 performers according to the Amlin Opta index. 71 carries in the European club game (10th overall).
Murray proved himself on three stages in 2013/14: domestic, European and international. Albeit in the Rabo Murray featured only 264 minutes in the whole season, international duty and minor injuries halted domestic game-time. When the scrum-half is fit for Munster he has influenced the attacking play, In the Heineken Cup he is top assist try scorer with 5, a monumental feat.
It was slightly disappointing that he was not nominated for Six Nations player of the tournament. Mike Brown was the deserved winner, but were Brian O Driscoll and Andrew Trimble, who were both nominated, better than Murray?
Statistics do not tell the whole story. Box-kicking is accurate, allowing attackers time to chase the ball. Only Danny Care can better Murray in this aspect at the moment. His sniping around the breakdown opens defences, granting more time and space for team-mates. Varied passing keeps the opposition guessing.
Ex Munster and Ireland team-mate Ronan O’ Gara praised Murray in an interview with the Irish Independent.
“He’s very composed and very hard working and he is getting that ability now to start barking at the forwards, which is important when you are behind the Munster and Ireland packs.”
Paul O’Connell is near the end of his career and Donnacha Ryan is presently a liability with injuries, a vocal scrum-half is vital for club and country. Ex- Ireland fly-half Tony Ward believes the Lions number 9 “has all the attributes to take on Munster captaincy.”
Conor Murray has achieved a British and Irish Lions series victory, Six Nations Championship and a Celtic League medal. He has high ambitions for the future and aspires for more.
“I want to go to the 2015 World Cup as one of the best scrum-halves in the world. I have that self-belief from the Lions tour and want to grow my game to become one of the best scrum-halves in Europe this season and then grow again for the World Cup in England the following season.”
Dominic Evans, Pundit Arena