herald

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Jordi: I'll be ready

Flanker eager to seize his chance to shine in Cup debut as red-hot Chiefs ride into town

CATALUNA isn't much of a rugby stronghold. Jordi Murphy smiles when you suggest the same, for he should know more than most.

In fact, had fate not intervened one summer's day in 1999, the 21-year-old might never have had the chance to play in front of a packed Aviva Stadium in one of the best-supported club fixtures on the planet.

Maybe at football. Certainly not at rugby. Watching El Gran Clásico on Sunday evening, the Leinster wing forward was reminded about his sporting roots which began not with a rugby ball in his hands, like most of his team-mates, but with a ball at his feet.

He picks up the story. "I was born in and raised in Barcelona up until the age of nine and although both of my parents (father Conor and mother Nicola) were Dubliners, I had barely a word of English growing up.

"At Christmas time my family would usually head back to Dublin to visit relatives, but I would have considered myself Spanish at that time. But that all changed in August 1999, when we moved permanently back to Ireland.

"I was fortunate to be enrolled in Willow Park (the feeder school to Blackrock College), following in the footsteps of my grandfather and my dad. I remember on the first Monday in school we were told to get some rugby gear because we were playing that Wednesday.

"Being a little bit bigger than the other boys I enjoyed the physical side of the game and soon I was picking up the language - and the game of rugby - and the rest, as they say, is history. I haven't been back to visit my friends in Barcelona for a year or so, but hopefully I'll be able to pay a short visit during the November break."

Fast-forward a few years and Murphy barely has time to warm up as he is told to get ready for action. It's the 13th minute and as Kevin McLaughlin leaves the field, Murphy enters it watched by a 46,000-plus capacity crowd.

Fast times indeed. He readily admits that it was the biggest day of his career and he relished the big game atmosphere. Nerves, you ask?

"To be honest, I didn't really have time to get nervous because by the time Kev was injured and it was clear that he wasn't going to be in a position to continue, you just have to be ready.

"Playing against Munster in the Aviva was the biggest game of my career, without a doubt. I was quite relaxed that day and I went for a walk in the park with my dad to clear my head. There are always going to be a few butterflies on days like that, but you have to enjoy the occasion.

"Joe (Schmidt) had taken me to one side and spoken to me in the warm-up, saying that I should be ready at any time to slot into one of the back-row positions. So that helped focus my mind. And the whole experience, especially being part of a winning Leinster team in such a big game, was really special.

"It gives you a taste for playing on those big days. There are a few injuries at the moment in the back row so that creates opportunities and you have to go out and try to take them. You never really know when you're going to get the call up so the mindset for Academy guys like me is to try and make an impression and keep learning from those around you.

"Between the likes of Jenno (Shane Jennings), Jamie (Heaslip), Seanie (O'Brien) or Kev (McLaughlin) there's a huge amount of experience to tap into and, in fairness to all the lads, they're happy to stay behind after training and talk you through any questions you have. Don't get me wrong, it's a competitive culture, but the team comes first and they're a great support base for the younger lads like myself."

Should Murphy get the call up for his first Heineken Cup involvement this weekend, he is determined to seize the opportunity.

"Obviously, we'll just have to wait and see", he says. "The most important thing is that we get as many fit bodies on the field because the injury list we currently have is leaving us a bit stretched in certain positions.

"We know how good a side Exeter are and you only need to look at their performance against Quins last weekend to see that they're going to be travelling over to Dublin this weekend with a lot of confidence. Seeing as it's their first Heineken Cup game too, they're going to bring a real intensity.

"But we have a proud home record and we'll have a full house behind us. And those two factors will hopefully give us a massive lift. The crowd last weekend were so loud, you could hardly hear the calls on the pitch at times. And the RDS can be a real cauldron for away teams. It's up to us to bring a high intensity on Saturday because it's vital that we start off these pool stages on the front foot."

European rugby is open for business once more and the journey begins again tomorrow.

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