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All set: Ulster's Jordi Murphy is relishing a return to action

All set: Ulster's Jordi Murphy is relishing a return to action

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland

�INPHO/Alex James

All set: Ulster's Jordi Murphy is relishing a return to action

Ulster's Jordi Murphy has admitted it will feel somewhat surreal for rugby to resume behind closed doors but has welcomed the prospect of getting back to action.

The northern province have not taken the field since beating Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium on February 22 and tentative plans to return to training at the start of this week were shelved well in advance.

But with close contact sport expected to be permitted in three months' time under the Republic of Ireland's plan to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown, a best case scenario could see Irish derbies take place in the Aviva Stadium during the final two weekends of August.

The return of supporters to grounds would likely come only much later, with rugby set to follow the path laid out by German football last weekend where the resumption of activities took place in near-empty venues.

"At the start, I would have said 'definitely, let's try and play behind closed doors' and then you kind of watch other sports," said Murphy.

"I watched the Bundesliga last weekend for probably the first time and it's strange to see that the atmosphere has gone out of those stadiums. But I bet if you chatted to any of those players they'd tell you that they're just happy to be back playing."

While the list of essential personnel required to put on a game decided upon by World Rugby would barely fill a few rows of the Aviva, Murphy at least already has some experience of such an occasion from his days in the All-Ireland League.

"Seven or eight years ago I played for Lansdowne against Cork Con inside the Aviva Stadium and there must have been about 300 people there," he said. "That's probably the closest I've come to behind closed doors where there's not really that much of an atmosphere."

Under head coach Dan McFarland, Ulster players have frequently talked about creating their own atmosphere at some of the PRO14's quieter grounds with Murphy envisaging more of the same until fans can return.

"It's just going to be one of those things that we're all going to have to deal with and we're going to have to bring that energy within the team ourselves," he added.

"Anytime something good happens, it's building each other up and things like that. We tend to do that in training quite a lot anyway when things go your way or they don't, just building each other up. We're just going to have to transfer that over to games.

"Scoring a try or getting a turnover, you might not get that kind of energy rush from the sound of a crowd, but I think we'd all like to go back to playing in some sort of capacity.

"And if that means behind closed doors, that's just what it's going to have to be.

"It's obviously not ideal but if it has to be done it has to be done and it means we can play rugby and people are able to watch it on TV. It would also be in a safer manner for fans if they're behind closed doors from the start, I'm open to doing it. I'd just like to play again."

And while Murphy admits he has no more concrete information, he says the opportunity to get back into action against the side's nearest and dearest rivals is an appealing prospect.

"I can't confirm anything as I don't really know," said the 29-year-old who recently signed a two-year extension. "I've just heard loads of different scenarios that are possible.

"Any chance to play rugby, but especially the interpros where you definitely always have that little bit of extra bite.

"Not just because you're playing against people you know and friends, any interpro is a bit of a trial match if you've ambitions to play for Ireland which you'd have to say 100 per cent of the people who are eligible to play would have.

"Any sort of rugby right now would be great so if the first game happens to be an interpro that would be brilliant."

First must come a return to training with Murphy understanding that it will be up to the respective governments to decide exactly when that can occur.

"I think we've got the novelty of being able to watch other countries and I see in Super Rugby they've (already) started training in groups," he said.

"It sounds like a politically correct answer, but we've just got to listen to what the governments are saying. They've pretty much outlined from the start that contact sports were going to be last on the list and unfortunately we're top of that list.

"We just have to learn from what other sports are doing first. We know for the moment we probably won't be back for a little while, but knowing it's in the not too distant future is positive news. I'd love if tomorrow we could go back in and train back together, but I know that's not the case. I just hope it's not too far away."

Belfast Telegraph