Scrum half Conor Murray, who was sidelined for Munster’s last two games, insists his injury troubles are behind him as he looks set to start for Ireland against Italy on Saturday.
Conor Murray’s return to fitness is a timely boost for the defending RBS 6 Nations champions ahead of Thursday afternoon’s team announcement and the eagerly-awaited trip to Rome.
Commenting on his neck injury at Carton House today, Murray said: “I got injured against Zebre with Munster in the PRO12 about four weeks ago now and just over extended it and required a couple of weeks out.
“It was probably a bit too soon for those two European games at Munster (last month). I was probably a bit touch and go. I maybe could have got back (and played), but speaking to specialists and doctors and all that, they advised against it.
“I rehabbed it well. Did a bit of contact on Friday in the Aviva and did a bit more yesterday and came through really well and I’m feeling good and fit to play. It was a disc problem in my neck (but) it’s gone now. There’s no hassle over it. I just ran into a player’s chest and squashed myself. It wasn’t the smartest idea. I won’t be doing that again!”
Having missed part of the 2012 Six Nations with a knee injury and damaged his shoulder on a separate occasion, Murray is used to rehab programmes. The Limerick man’s patience was certainly tested during his recent spell on the sidelines, given that he was unable to train fully and was missing big Champions Cup clashes.
“It’s tough. Rehab is annoying, you can’t train fully. You can’t get your full weights programme in. You can’t be out on the pitch with the lads. It is just part and parcel of professional sport,” he admitted.
“I just had to put the head down and get on with it. I have done my contact. I have done bag work (now), tackled a few of the lads and feel good. I’ve gotten through that first contact fear, if you want to call it that.”
Murray’s last two outings for province and country, against Zebre in December and Australia during November’s GUINNESS Series, saw him undergo a head injury assessment in both games.
Although reluctant to come off at such a crucial stage in the Wallabies encounter, he praised the Ireland medical staff for their management of his concussion-like symptoms which, he said, turned into ‘a delayed onset’ of concussion.
“In the Australia game you can see me when I’m called off I’m shaking my head, as if there is nothing wrong with me. In the days after that game I did feel a little bit off. I had to tell the lads.
“We are all more educated on concussion and we all understand what the potential risks are down the line. If you hide it and play another game you could be out for a longer period of time. It is within our best interests as well to tell the coaches and they appreciate that too.”
The 25-year-old added: “The (IRFU medical) lads did handle it really well at the time. There are protocols in place and they followed each and every one of them. Sometimes you do get a delayed concussion onset and that is what happened me.
“I got taken off in the (Australia) game and passed all the questions and balance test which meant I was fit to play. I came back on and finished the game fine. Later on after the game, I just didn’t feel right. it is hard to put your finger on it. You just don’t feel right. Maybe might have a little headache. I had a slight headache, nothing major. I just felt a little bit off.
“I have had concussions before where I felt the same, I knew what was up. So I knew I had to follow the protocols, look after yourself and get back playing which is what I did.”
With his regular international half-back partner Jonathan Sexton out of the Italy match due to concussion, should Murray start in Rome, he will have either Ian Madigan or Ian Keatley outside him in the number 10 jersey.
While there might seem that there is more responsibility on his shoulders given that he would be the more experienced member of the half-back pairing, Murray feels that the players are well trained by head coach Joe Schmidt and can easily slot in no matter who is out injured.
Asked if he will have extra responsilibity as a play-maker this weekend, he replied: “Not more than usual, I think. Other people might say there is but I don’t see that. It came up with Munster before that there might be a bit more pressure on me but I just try and play my own game, try play well and if I play well hopefully all that stuff, the pressure and responsibility, looks after itself.
“The two lads, the two Ians who are going for the 10 spot this weekend, have been in and out of the team in training. They have been getting their reps in and doing really well and I have no issue with whoever gets picked.
“We all have our roles in the team. We all understand how Joe wants us to play the game and I don’t think it is going to affect any of us. Even the lads coming in. I don’t think anyone has to change the way they play or change the type of player they are. They can still express themselves. We just have a good understanding of the game-plan and how we want to approach this Italy game.”
Murray believes the squad are in good shape, both mentally and physically, for what he feels will be a ‘huge task’ against Italy. However, Schmidt’s men will travel with confidence as Ireland have won 18 of their last 19 Tests against the Azzurri – 2013’s 22-15 loss in Rome was the only blip.
“The Italians are hugely strong at home and in their first game (of the tournament), you have seen that over the last few seasons. They have put together huge performances. We got to be ready for that,” continued the 2013 British & Irish Lion.
“I have got through my contact work and I am going into the game with no fears about making tackles or getting stuck in. Italy away in the first game is a huge task for us.
“I know people say you are defending champions but this is a whole new season. There’s potentially new players in their team, and it is going to be a completely different task. We are in the right mindset for it.”