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Jordi Murphy: Ulster know all about away interpro record and are determined to put it right

 

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Jordi Murphy wants to put that defeat to rights against Connacht

Jordi Murphy wants to put that defeat to rights against Connacht

�INPHO/Billy Stickland

Point to prove: Ulster’s Jordi Murphy is tackled by Gloucester’s Ed Slater during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the Kingsholm Stadium

Point to prove: Ulster’s Jordi Murphy is tackled by Gloucester’s Ed Slater during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the Kingsholm Stadium

PA

Ulster coach Dan McFarland

Ulster coach Dan McFarland

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

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Jordi Murphy wants to put that defeat to rights against Connacht

In a game increasingly top-heavy with stats, a rather stark one was put out there in front of the Ulster squad this week to make Christmas just that little bit more indigestible.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, this information was being imparted to the players ahead of an already forbidding-looking trip to Galway and, yes, with the expected weather also having been a topic for discussion.

As Jordi Murphy was happy to share with all those souls still grappling with the bi-weekly Zoom calls, Ulster have failed to win an away interprovincial game since Boxing Day in 2015 when, as it happens, they managed to bag the 10-3 result at The Sportsground, where they return to tomorrow.

"Unfortunately, we were shown a statistic where it's been quite a long time since we won an away interpro game. It's definitely something we want to put right as a group," Murphy said before adding that five years have elapsed since Ulster took the scalp of any Irish rival while being on the road.

Throw in those narrow Champions Cup losses to Toulouse and Gloucester and there is added context to travelling west in depths of winter as the prospect of a third consecutive defeat - and a first one at that in the Guinness PRO14 after those eight straight wins - has an unpalatable look to it as 2020 draws to a close and, worse still, with a trip to the dreaded RDS Arena and Leinster to come after hosting Munster next week.

Though Ulster already look comfortable regarding finishing at least second in Conference A, that will no longer suffice if they are to savour knockout rugby again in the league - after all, they did make last season's final from what was a Covid-wrecked and restructured fixture list - thanks to the newly unveiled Rainbow Cup which has brought South Africa's big four into view and, most pressingly, clumsily funnelled the PRO14 into moving straight from being cut to 16 rounds into a final shoot-out.

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Which means taking Connacht down tomorrow and winning at home to Munster looks a no-brainer for Dan McFarland's side, while it will also bring plenty of extra edge and bite to the Leinster game as the PRO14 title holders just happen to be Ulster's only rivals regarding ultimately topping Conference A.

"We have to look at the first couple of games in front of us and try to build a bit of good form and boost our morale through that," stated Murphy, who has played for Ireland 30 times.

"Any time I've gone there (The Sporstground), it's been around Christmas or New Year," adds the 29-year-old back-rower.

"We've talked this week about being able to control situations and our own frame of mind as obviously there's a lot of outside noise when it comes to Christmas.

"But we're professionals and we know that we're going to be playing around this time of year

"It's about being able to manage Christmas Day, switch off and then come back in on Boxing Day and just be able to switch back on and know that you really have to go and do a job," he added.

"It's quite tribal down there (in Galway), and I know there won't be crowds now but it's a bit of a fortress for them, and they earmark these games around Christmas when they get teams down to the Sportsground.

"We're really going to have to have our A game going down there as I've been down a few times and come out the wrong side of it and it's not a great feeling.

"It can kind of make or break your Christmas.

"A lot of it's mental," Murphy explained.

"Not letting the journey get in our way, the fact that it's Christmas and just making sure you go down there and enjoy the experience as much as you can and (then) try to get out of there with a win, because when you do get a win they're pretty special."

All that will be even more challenging this Christmas for Murphy, who recently became a parent, his partner Laura giving birth to daughter Lily just over a fortnight ago, resulting in his late withdrawal from the side which lost narrowly at home to Toulouse when Cheslin Kolbe and Antoine Dupont's opportunism did for a spirited Ulster who really should have won.

He was back for last weekend's game in Gloucester and acquitted himself reasonably well, though being present for the endgame and its aftermath has led to some inevitable scarring which will not be easily healed.

"With less than five minutes to go and to be 10 points ahead you're thinking 'if we manage the game right we can come away here with a win,'" he recalls of an Ulster performance which survived two simultaneous yellow cards and then resulted in a stirring comeback before everything went south in the dying moments.

"That was definitely one of the worst ones I've had and one of the toughest ones to take," Murphy says of the 38-34 loss, though he lingers a little bit more around the memory.

"The changing room afterwards was a pretty down place to be, especially as it was away from home, as (the game) was huge in Europe and we had the potential to be coming away with five points to put us right back in the mix (in the Champions Cup), especially after a tough loss the week before.

"Hopefully in the future we can learn to manage those last few minutes better than we did last weekend," added the durable back-rower of a situation that will have been talked about in-house quite a bit this week.

The last time Ulster traded blows with their cross-border rivals was last August and September when, well, they lost all three, including the PRO14 final to Leinster.

The hurt from that experience is yet to be fully channelled back against the other Irish sides and Murphy clearly feels that it can be, starting with tomorrow.

"The games post-lockdown were obviously disappointing," states Barcelona-born player.

"Even reviewing those games, we've improved a lot as a team. I think you'll see a different side to us in the next few weeks."

That horrible stat may be about to be binned.

connacht v ulster

Sportsground, Sunday, 7.35pm

FIRST par in here

folowed b

FIRST par in here

folowed b

Belfast Telegraph


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