As a veteran of one of the most successful club sides of the Northern Hemisphere in the last two decades, not to mention a successful international stint for Ireland and two caps for the Lions, there are few players better qualified than Geordan Murphy to comment on who should be playing for the Lions back line when the upcoming tests against Australia arrive.
“Leigh Halfpenny’s pretty much put his name down for the starting 15 shirt with a kicking display like that (against the Force),” says Murphy who, despite not being a regular front line kicker, knows what it is like to kick under pressure having taken part in that infamous penalty shoot-out against Cardiff a few years ago. “His kicking was incredible, and I know Rob Kearney hasn’t had a run yet but if he continues to play that well you really just can’t leave him out – especially when you consider how close test matches tend to be.”
The centres are an area of real intrigue when it comes to test selection, and again Murphy can call on his own experience to cast his opinion, having played with O’Driscoll at international level and more recently Tuilagi at club level. And he has been impressed with the impact the young England centre has made so far.
“Before the tour, I thought Jamie Roberts would be a shoo-in for the 12 spot, but I thought the fact that O’Driscoll played 13 and Manu played 12 the other day (against the Force) was Gatland saying ‘well you have the first shot at the inside centre berth’, and I thought he played very well. I think Manu’s good enough across the board that at some point they will get him involved in the test series.” It is a devilishly difficult decision that Gatland has to make, but someone with the physical attributes of Tuilagi will undoubtedly be pushing all the way for inclusion, and he might just tip the bwin odds in the Lions favour.
Sadly for Tuilagi, he won’t find himself playing in the same team as Murphy again any time soon. The same cannot be said, however, for his brothers. Murphy is part of a Tigers old boys team that will take to the field at Wimbledon Rugby Club on 13th July as part of the Legends Rugby festival, and Murphy hinted there could be some big weapons unleashed in Tigers colours. “There’re a lot of names that have been thrown around – Henry Tuilagi, he’s been mentioned, and it wouldn’t seem right not to have one of them out there! We’re trying to get Austin and Benny Kay to get involved, but I’m not sure Austin wants to put his title on the line to be honest.” As the whole of Wales can attest to, getting Healey to follow through on promises is a thankless task…
Back to more professional matters, and Murphy’s love affair with the Tigers shows no sign of abating as he confirms he has signed on as assistant backs coach, working with fellow former player Paul Burke. Did he ever consider leaving the club he joined 16 years ago? “There were times in the past when I thought that I would have moved away from Tigers, when there’ve been opportunities to play in other countries,” admits the Irishman. “It was something that was very tempting for me, but I ended up staying at Tigers, and the club have been very good to me.”
Murphy plans to repay that faith by being the very best coach that he can be, and is under no illusions as to the hard work that that will take. “I’ve jumped onto the bottom rung of the coaching ladder now, so it’s just like being a young player in that you go out and you try and improve and get in the team,” he explains. “If you get in the team then you try and stay in the team. After that, then you can worry about going up the ranks and playing international rugby, and I think it’s the same in the coaching set-up.”
Humble throughout the interview, a hint of Murphy’s ambitions comes through when talking about what the ultimate goal is – to one day be top dog. Could it be at the Tigers, though? “Without any shadow of a doubt, yeah,” he says enthusiastically. “It’d be great to be director of rugby at any club, and have a vision and see it through – but for now that’s not something I’m worrying about, I’m just focused on learning my trade.”
Like player like coach then, by the sounds of things, as Murphy keeps his feet firmly on the ground. Once he has processed the emotions of having run out for the last time for the Tigers – he admits it has been non-stop since the end of the season and he has barely had the chance to think about it – the work will begin again in earnest to get himself to the top of the coaching ladder. Tigers fans can be justifiably proud that, in an age when players chop and change clubs with alarming frequency, a club legend like Murphy has expressed such a strong desire to stick exactly where he is.
Geordan Murphy spoke on behalf of the Legends Rugby Festival on 13th July at Wimbledon RFC. More information and tickets at www.legendsrugby.co.uk
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43