Hurtful rumours were so tough to deal with: Murray
Conor Murray has spoken publicly for the first time about speculation over his long-term absence from rugby union, labelling allegations of failed drugs tests "crazy" and "hurtful".
The Ireland scrum-half did not play a minute of rugby this season until November 25 after suffering from a mysterious neck injury, which both he and his club Munster elected to keep the details of private throughout his recovery.
Murray sat out more than five months before returning in the Guinness PRO14 victory over Zebre, but he did so amid speculation on social media over conspiracy theories behind his absence, which included the possibility that he was serving a ban for alleged failed drugs tests despite there being no evidence to suggest this was the case.
The 29-year-old addressed these accusations on Wednesday when he appeared at Sarsfield Barracks to give a talk to Limerick's Defence Forces, in which he was asked a question about dealing with being in the public eye during his lengthy lay-off.
"The toughest part of this was the outside rumours that my friends and family would hear," Murray said, adding that the social media accusations had been "difficult".
"Crazy stuff that I'd failed all sorts of drugs tests and they were just keeping it under wraps and letting me serve my ban. That kind of hurt a little bit.
"They were guessing what was wrong, and think I'm going to have to retire. It's not nice hearing it for yourself, but then your family don't really know either. They are seeing second hand information. It's quite tough."
Having returned to the Munster starting line-up and regained his place in the No.9 shirt, Murray looks poised to be reunited with Johnny Sexton in the Ireland team for the opening Six Nations encounter against England on February 2, providing he comes through their final European Champions Cup game against Gloucester tonight and Exeter Chiefs next weekend.
Ireland will of course be looking to become the first team to win consecutive Grand Slams in the Six Nations era after last season's triumph - something that along with a first series win in Australia and autumn international victory over the All Blacks saw them crowned World Rugby Team of the Year - but Murray explained how the hard times during the first half of the season were only made easier by his team-mates, who used the speculation over his lay-off to joke with him and lift his spirits.
"It was the unity of my team," Murray added. "Munster would hear the same rumours and on Monday morning, they'd be slagging me about it, and make light of it straight away. Having a good team around you and a good head space is really important. It helps me.
"You hear a lot of players saying they don't read the media or look at Twitter, but you can't avoid it. If you don't see it on your phone, your friends will say it back to you and it will affect you somehow."
Murray will start tonight's Champions Cup trip to Kingsholm as he returns to the line-up in one of six changes, with Mike Haley and Rory Scannell coming into the back line at full-back and inside centre respectively and props Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer restored to the front-row, with CJ Stander named at No.8.
Gloucester meanwhile welcome back Danny Cipriani two weeks ahead of schedule as he returns early from a pectoral injury, having sat out the last month coinciding with four straight defeats.
Olly Thorley also returns on the left wing after being injured in the warm-up ahead of last weekend's defeat by Leicester Tigers, with four changes in the pack as hooker Henry Walker, lock Ed Slater and back-rows Franco Mostert and Lewis Ludlow all return to the starting line-up.
Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann said: "(Tonight's) challenge is massive, and if you go into it with a negative mindset, it's not going to help."
Twice European champions Munster will reach the last-eight as pool winners if they defeat Gloucester and then beat Exeter in Limerick tomorrow week.
But victories for Gloucester and Exeter - the Chiefs host Castres on Sunday - would ensure a thrilling finale to the closest of the groups.
"We are looking forward to a big challenge against a quality side, and after this weekend we will know where we are in the pool," Ackermann added.
"But we can't worry about that. We just have to put in a big performance and let the result look after itself."
l A fourth rugby player has died in France in the space of eight months due to injuries sustained in a match.
Nathan Soyeux, a 23-year-old university student at ESIREM Graduate School in Dijon, was injured while being tackled on November 24 last year.
Initially, Soyeux was able to sit up and speak with medics on the pitch, but he complained of nausea and subsequently lost consciousness.
He was rushed to hospital in Dijon where doctors placed him in an induced coma for two weeks, but his health started to deteriorate when they attempted to bring him out of it.
It was confirmed on Monday that Soyeux had died due to the adverse reaction.
Heineken Champions Cup - Pool 2
Kingsholm, Tonight, 7.45pm