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Richie Murphy: 'It's been a little bit of an unsettling period'

By Simon Thomas
Ulster interim coach Richie Murphy before the United Rugby Championship match between DHL Stormers and Ulster at DHL Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo By Shaun Roy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

For new Ulster Rugby boss Richie Murphy, coaching is very much a vocation. It can mean long hours and plenty of pressure, but he wouldn’t rather be making a living any other way.

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Murphy has been coaching for some 25 years, having started out in his late 20s after a knee injury curtailed his playing career as a goal-kicking fly-half.

Now he’s a month into a new role at the helm of Ulster, having come on board in the wake of Dan McFarland’s departure.

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It’s a position that comes with a lot of scrutiny, especially when results don’t go your way. But, as for whether he is still enjoying coaching as much as ever, he instantly replies: “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t!

“I love rugby. The idea of working in an office job doesn’t really appeal to me.

“I have no problem being on my laptop at 10 o’clock at night and then getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning and going to work.

“It’s probably a bit of a vocation all right, coaching rugby.

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“But it’s something that I really enjoy.

“Being around the players on a daily basis keeps you young and I am definitely excited to see what we can do over the next while.”

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Born and raised in county Wicklow, Murphy played at No 10 for Greystones, Clontarf, Carlow and Old Belvedere, while also representing Leinster.

With his knee problem forcing a change of direction, he began coaching at club level.

From 2003, he worked for the IRFU, initially at development and Academy level before being brought in as a kicking coach at Leinster.

He then spent the best part of a decade as a member of the Ireland coaching team, going on to take charge of the U20s in 2021, winning successive Six Nations Grand Slams and reaching the World Championship final last year.

Now he’s embarking on a new challenge in Belfast.

“It’s definitely a different role,” he says. “But the U20s was a really good stepping stone for coming up here in terms of shaping the way I wanted it and forming a very tight bond between the players.

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“That gave me a lot of confidence stepping into a role like this.”

The 54-year-old Murphy could hardly have had a more testing initiation in his new job.

First there were two BKT URC games out in South Africa – hard-fought defeats against the Hollywoodbets Sharks (22-12) and the DHL Stormers (13-7).

Then came successive trips to France in the EPCR Challenge Cup – a notable 40-17 last 16 victory away to Montpellier followed by a 53-14 quarter-final exit at the hands of Clermont Auvergne.

“It definitely feels like it was a tough start, even just to be away for those four weeks,” says Murphy.

Now Ulster are back on home soil and back on BKT URC duty, with Cardiff Rugby the visitors to the Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.

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Ireland coach Richie Murphy speaks to his players after their draw with England (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“We are coming off the back of a difficult enough four weeks on the road – two weeks in South Africa and then two weeks back and forth to France,” said Murphy.

“It’s been a difficult period for players and staff and obviously with the turnover of coaching it’s been a little bit of an unsettling period.

“But I don’t think you get an easy week when you are in professional rugby. While we all love it, it is a bit of a grind. “You are turning up every week and trying to re-invent and add on so your team is always going forward.

“If you stand still, everyone else will go past you. It’s an interesting role.”

He continued: “We know what we need to do in relation to the next number of weeks and we are hoping to get a good start on Friday night.

“I’ve only been here four weeks, so we are at the very early stages of it, but everyone is pulling in the right direction and wants to see Ulster Rugby succeed.

“We have got some tough games coming up, but it’s also something to be excited about. We can go and chase trying to get into the quarter-finals.”

Ulster currently lie eighth in the table – the final play-off spot – with five rounds of matches to go.

“There are definitely two or three teams that are clearly out in front at the moment and everyone is trying to chase them,” said Murphy.

“You can see how tight it is from 11th up to fourth. There is probably a lot of movement going to happen over the next number of weeks.

“The competition is extremely strong, with big names and big opportunities to do things you don’t normally get to do.

“I spent my first two weeks in the job in South Africa. Going to Durban and playing the Sharks in their stadium, it’s an incredibly tough place to go at this time of year in the heat, but it’s also an incredible experience for young players to play there. The Stormers ground in Cape Town is also a very special place. The atmosphere and the games are very different to what we have up here.”

Murphy’s title is interim head coach, so does he have ambitions to continue in the role beyond this season?

“I have loved my time with the U20s and would be quite happy to go back to them if that happens,” he replies.

“But I’m also very keen on the idea of a longer term thing in Ulster. It’s a job that I’d really like to do and I suppose that will come down to whether Ulster want me or not.”

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