Belfast Telegraph

Murray's withdrawal reflects strength of Munster squad, insists Van Graan

Surprise move: Conor Murray was taken off last week
Surprise move: Conor Murray was taken off last week

By Cian Tracey

There haven't been too many times in Conor Murray's career that he has been substituted with a big game hanging in the balance.

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So, when he was called ashore on 66 minutes last weekend with Munster trailing 21-14 at home to Racing, it raised eyebrows in some quarters.

Ultimately, it was a brave decision that paid off for Johann van Graan as Alby Mathewson's snappy service helped Munster snatch a late draw.

It's easy to read too much into these kind of things, but given the rarity with which it has happened in the past, it was certainly notable from the outside at least.

That wasn't the case from the coach's point of view, as Van Graan was in no doubt that it was the right thing to do for the team at the time.

"From the inside it is no big deal really for us," the Munster head coach insisted.

"We have changed Pete (O'Mahony), (Keith) Earlsy, CJ (Stander), Niall Scannell, Tadhg Beirne - all of our players on 50 or 60 minutes so for us, it is no big deal really. I have done it in big games before, last year at home against Exeter I did the exact same, so it is not really an issue for me.

"We trust all 23 guys who are in the squad. I have said what I said about Alby after the game.

"He is still up to international standard, so not at all. I made the change because it was best for the team. He really made an impact."

With Mathewson's departure lessening the competition for Murray's place, Van Graan wants to see Craig Casey, Nick McCarthy and Neil Cronin put pressure on the Ireland international.

"He has played some good rugby," Van Graan said of Murray.

"His World Cup game against Scotland was probably his best game and I felt his kicking game has certainly improved over the last few weeks.

"Conor is world-class and he measures himself against his own standards. He is our starting nine, he is a Munster man and we back him as one of our world-class players.

"He has started in all of our big games and we will continue to back him. He wants to be the best in his position and he wants to retain that No 9 jersey in Ireland."

Meanwhile, Joey Carbery has stepped up his recovery from an ankle injury, but there is still no time-frame on a possible return.

"The good thing is that he has started a small bit of running now, but he's not close to team training at this stage," Van Graan explained.

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