Analysis: Murray’s arc-running influence vital in guiding Munster over the line

MUNSTER AND CONOR Murray weren’t quite at their best on Sunday against Castres, but both still showed their European class to ensure another four match points for Johann van Graan’s side.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The win leaves Munster in control at the top of Pool 2 and it was little surprise that Murray’s quality at scrum-half helped to make the difference.

The 29-year-old was making just his third appearance of the season and will only get better with each game, but his decisiveness was crucial in helping Munster to get over the tryline in an at-times frustrating encounter in Limerick.

Murray ended the game with two assists, underlining his play-making importance to van Graan’s team.

After Munster had eked out a 6-0 advantage at the break, Murray’s first assist came early in the second half after CJ Stander picked from the base of a wheeling scrum eight metres out from the Castres tryline.

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As we can see above, Castres halfbacks Ludovic Radosavljevic and Benjamin Urdapilleta both commit into the tackle on Stander.

With Munster shaping to carry to Murray’s left on the next phase, the Castres pack all fold around the corner to the openside.

Murray has a habitual glance up to the right of the ruck as he gets set to launch the second phase, just before Castres flanker Mathieu Babillot falls over the ball as he attempts to counter-ruck.

The Munster scrum-half, always aware of the defensive alignment around rucks, takes his opportunity in the next split second.

As we can see below, Castres wing Taylor Paris [in yellow] is the only defender positioned away from the ruck on the shortside.

Second row Thibault Lassalle [white above] is in the pillar area at the side of Munster’s ruck, but even at that, he is positioned more in behind the ruck.

It’s extremely poor defensive organisation and awareness from Castres to leave this much space open, and Murray doesn’t need to be asked twice to take his chance.

Munster out-half JJ Hanrahan [yellow below] identifies the opportunity at almost the same moment as Murray, while Andrew Conway’s positioning wide on the right [blue] means Paris can’t bite in on Murray.

That leaves Murray [white] running one of his threatening arcs away from the ruck against the highly-exposed Lassalle.

Murray gets up a strong left-handed fend to keep Lassalle away from the ball and allow him to keep his feet as support arrives.

Rory Scannell starts the phase positioned on the left of the Munster ruck, having initially been pulled back off the ball by Yannick Caballero as he supports Stander’s carry.

Scannell is typically alert as Murray picks from the base of the ruck and snipes back to the right…

… leaving the centre perfectly positioned to burst onto Murray’s right-handed offload and slip through the despairing final tackle attempt of Loic Jacquet to score Munster’s first try.

Murray was the provider for the Irish province’s second try too, sniping off the base of a ruck in similar fashion to take advantage of more poor Castres defence.

Munster have played across towards the left touchline in the 68th minute and are ready to work back to their right with forwards carrying off Murray.

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Again, Castres’ work to set up their defence around the ruck costs them severely.

Sammy Arnold carries the ball and with Arno Botha, Scannell and Mike Haley all in the vicinity, Munster are well prepared to recycle the ball with a minimum of fuss.

Castres replacement hooker Kevin Firmin arrives at the right-hand side of the Munster ruck and looks set to fill in as the pillar there.

However, Firmin then makes a decision to commit into the ruck, seemingly keen to disrupt Munster’s possession.

Firmin is hoping to shunt Botha and Scannell back onto Murray as he picks up the ball, but it’s a lost cause and deprives Castres of an extra defender on their feet in the line.

To Firmin’s left, the defensive organisation is poor and presents opportunity for Murray.

Christophe Samson [yellow below] is hovering in between being the pillar defender at the very edge of the ruck – having presumably presumed Firmin would fill that role – and the next role in the defensive line, responsible for dealing with any snipes from the opposition scrum-half.

The next player in Castres’ defensive line is Caballero [blue] and as we can see, he’s almost five metres to Samson’s left, leaving a yawning gap for Munster to target.

Caballero’s width off Samson is exactly the kind of opportunity Murray is consistently scanning for, providing him with ample space to go on another of his arcing runs off the base of the ruck.

Murray’s vision picks up the chance as he scoops the ball from the ground and though he briefly shapes to pass to the Munster forwards on his right, he instead accelerates into the space outside Samson.

With Caballero and Babillot hammering up on potential first receiver Billy Holland, Murray is left in a clear one-on-one against the immobile Samson, arcing around him with ease and then drawing in Radosavljevic, who is sweeping behind Castres’ frontline defence.

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Stander, having initially been part of the possible ball-carrying pod off the ruck, is rewarded for getting upfield to support Murray, with the scrum-half flicking away a one-handed pre-contact pass just before Radosavljevic engages him.

Stander has the momentum to surge beyond Samson and then uses his left hand to fend another poor final tackle attempt from Castres fullback Scott Spedding, sending Munster into an unassailable lead.

The defence from Castres in both instances will have deeply disappointed the Top 14 side, but Murray’s arc-running class was in clear view once again.

Show Munster space around the rucks and Murray will be on hand to dish out the punishment.

Originally published at 13.29

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