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Jack Murphy: 'It was a bit weird and took a while to get used to'

By Liam Heagney
Former Ireland U20s boss Richie Murphy speaks to his son Jack in March after the Six Nations draw with England (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

It could be quite a brilliant 20th birthday for Jack Murphy if things work out swimmingly with Ireland in the next few weeks. His cake and candles milestone is July 15, four days before the DHL Stadium final of the 2024 World Rugby U20 Championship in Cape Town.

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By then, dad and mum will have joined him in South Africa, hoping to see a squad now marshalled by the promoted Willie Faloon go one step further than Richie Murphy’s class of 2023. Despite the Irish going into last year’s tournament as back-to-back Six Nations champions, France proved far too powerful in the World Championship decider in Athlone.

That loss was avenged by a new squad featuring Murphy jnr as their out-half talisman, Ireland going to Provence at the start of February to win a Six Nations classic, but the intriguing Murphy father and son combination that was at the heart of this unbeaten spring campaign culminated in a break-up.

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It was nothing to do with Murphy snr not delivering the title that England clinched thanks to securing one extra bonus point. Instead, he was handed the reins at Ulster on an interim basis that has since become a permanent arrangement.

A two-year deal was inked last month in Belfast and confirmation soon followed that Faloon – not Murphy – would be in age-grade hot seat when Ireland fly to South Africa this Monday to contest a pool against Italy, Georgia and Australia.

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“Of course it’s a little bit different with Willie taking over, but Willie has been with the 20s for three or four years so he knows the style of it; I definitely don’t think we are losing any knowledge on either side of the ball,” explained Murphy to RugbyPass from his country’s high-performance training centre in Dublin.

“Neil Doak is in with us as well, as is Ian Keatley and Aaron Dundon. They are all adding a lot to our game at the minute from the Six Nations. Of course it is different not having him [dad] around but the atmosphere within the team is still brilliant. It’s a different experience but it’s a good one for sure.”

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It was last March in the tunnel at The Rec following Ireland’s rollicking draw with England when dad Richie touched on the novelty of being the boss of an international team that has his son as the star No10. “It’s actually been fine. Early on it was a little bit different but Jack comes into camp, I treat him like Jack and when we go home we try and have a father-and-son relationship,” he outlined.

“It isn’t the easiest thing in the world but he is quite a mature boy and we are very proud of the performance he put in from a father’s point of view and a mother’s point of view. His mum Stephanie will be delighted with him. We just move on to the next one.”

That maturity was evident throughout this pre-Championship interview. What was Jack’s perspective heading to and from training as Richie’s son but being just another player when the pitch business began? “At the start of the Six Nations and the camps beforehand it was a bit weird and it took a while to get used to it, but after a week or so he was just my coach and I was just one of the players that he could or could not select.

“I just saw him as the coach when we were training and when we were in camp and when we got home it was back to normal, back to just our family life. We tried to keep rugby separate from life because if he was to tell me this and that we would probably be talking about it for a while. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the people at home because it would go on for quite a while.”

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It will be towards the latter end of the tournament when the family rendezvous in South Africa. By then, Murphy jnr will have decided whether he will move in with dad in Belfast or shack up with some mates when he joins the Ulster academy.

“We are tidying that up now in a week or so. There is one or two more lads going up as well so I have to liaise with them and see what is happening.” Before the deal was clinched for dad to come in as Dan McFarland’s successor, Jack was already on the verge of committing to his move north rather than accepting an offer from his native Leinster.

“I’d an opportunity to go to Leinster but thought for myself after the 20s to really improve as a player, there was a lot of quality out-halves in Leinster and I couldn’t really see where I was going to play, where I was going to fit in over the next few years.

“I just thought about a move elsewhere and Ulster were really interested. They made it clear they wanted me to go up. It’s a really good opportunity and I actually had nearly made that choice before my dad had ended up there. It was purely on opportunity rather than any ties towards that stuff.”

Older brother Ben, the 23-year-old, Connacht-bound scrum-half who made nine Champions Cup/URC appearances for Leinster in 2023/24, has avoided comparison with Richie, but Jack’s emergence has been different as out-half was also his father’s position when burning it up as a supreme goal-kicker in the 1990s on the All-Ireland League circuit.

“Kicking would be one of my strong points so he has taught me from a young age with a lot of my kicking and passing. Especially playing out in Clontarf, a few people came up and said, ‘That was just like Richie’. I think I’m quite different, but I haven’t seen many of his games and people say they can see some similarities as well.”

Coming up against adults in Ireland’s top club division was pivotal to Murphy’s accelerated development this past year. “It was brilliant. That is the competition where the majority of lads for the 20s are. It’s a really tough league because you go from playing schools rugby to straightaway going in playing with grown men.

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“Some of the places you go to are tough. My first game was against UCD and I got to play with Ben as well so that was special but my next game was in Young Munster and it was quite a tough away fixture. It’s a great league. It has done a lot for me, getting the opportunity to play with really good players in ’Tarf and play against really good players as well.

“It gets you really well prepared for the Six Nations and the World Cup, and it opens your eyes to a taster of what professional rugby is like. Even though it’s not quite at that level I have learned a lot from those games.

“Definitely the experience you can’t really understate. I feel much more confident in games because I feel like I have a taste of what might happen and I’m getting used to adapting to things you didn’t think would happen.

“You are a bit more alert to things you didn’t know at the start. I have definitely evolved as a player and I would hope I’m a bit more mature than I was at the start of the Six Nations. It is easy to lose the run of yourself but we always have a chat with our coaches before games, especially out-halves and scrum-halves, on how to stay calm, how to make the right decisions.

“I feel as an out-half I have to drive the philosophy of the team and be the backbone to kind of keep the lads calm, give them the right calls and the right decisions to make. I just stay with my breathing, try and relax and make the right calls for the best of the team.”

What have the Ireland reflections been on their second-place Six Nations finish? “It was pretty bittersweet. We were unbeaten, a lot of people talk about the (drawn) English game, how close it was, but we were ultimately disappointed not to have gone on to win the championship.

“That isn’t a good thing but it can be a good thing because it has really driven us on in the last couple of weeks to just go all out at this World Cup. It has given us something to really chase and really go after. Very disappointed we didn’t win it but we have packed it to one side now and are just going helter-skelter for the World Cup.

“I won’t make a prediction but we have always just been really focused on the first game (against Italy). It was similar in the Six Nations when we went to France, we just focused on one game at a time. We have this thing called ‘next job mentality’ and we are always just trying to focus on the next game, which is now Italy.

“We will just take the rest of the tournament from there, try our best and see where that puts us at the end of it. We watched a few of those Rugby Championship games. The quality was really good. Those southern hemisphere teams are going to have big boys, some pacy players as well so we know what to expect of them.

“We are very tight, very tight,” he added about the Irish squad’s camaraderie. “There is a lot of craic going on. Ben O’Connor. Bryn Ward likes a joke. Then of the coaches, Ian Keatley loves a joke as well. It keeps the mood really good, keeps it fresh and you always have got to have a bit of fun as well. You have to enjoy it.

“Usually the day before a game we have a players meeting and at the end play a game where everyone sits in a circle. I can’t remember what it is called but it’s a bit like Humongous, like a video game but we do it manually so all the lads have to vote out someone to try and find the killer. The lads would be having really good craic with that. It’s good to settle those nerves a bit before the game.”

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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