At Murrayfield yesterday, the players selected for Scotland's Six Nations Championship opener were going about the business of preparing for the visit of the French on Sunday, being put through their training ground paces by Andy Robinson and his coaching team on the back pitches behind the Edinburgh arena. Up in the West Stand, in the Drysdale Suite, the XV was being announced for the A team international against Ireland at Ravenhill in Belfast tomorrow night. In at No 3 on the team sheet for Scotland's shadow side was Euan Murray, rated by some – not least the Springboks, whose pack he dismantled out on the main pitch at Murrayfield 15 months ago – as a rival to Carl Hayman as the planet's finest in the tight-head propping department, and a devout Christian whose strengthening commitment to his religion has extended to preserving Sunday as a day of worship and rest.
It was back in December that the 29-year-old Northampton Saint made the announcement that he would not be playing any more Sunday games for club or country. It removed one of the major players from the selection equation for Scotland's 2010 Six Nations, and for their crucial 2011 World Cup pool-stage encounter with Argentina. And yet there has been nothing other than support, understanding and respect for Murray's decision from within the Scottish rugby community.
"Euan's trained well with us this morning," said Sean Lineen, Scotland's A team coach. "He's keen just to play rugby and it's his choice how he goes about it. As a coach, you just respect that and get on with it. He's a quality player and as Scotland A team coach I'm delighted to have him playing for us on Friday night."
Mike Blair, scrum-half and captain of the A team, added: "I think it's been accepted very well by the players as well. A lot of guys know Euan very well and when he originally made this decision there was no talk behind his back of, 'What's he playing at?' Everyone knows how serious he is about his religion and certainly we back him up with that.
"I know how hard a decision it would have been for him, because he loves playing international rugby. And I guess he does put a bit of pressure on himself because it means Moray Low is going to get another opportunity at tight-head prop on Sunday. He did fantastically well when Euan was out injured in the autumn. But that's something that shows the strength of reasoning behind Euan's decision."
Lineen and Blair were speaking in the suite named after Dan Drysdale, the full-back who played alongside one Eric Liddell in Scotland's championship team in 1923.
Liddell became the most celebrated sporting Christian of all but never missed a game because of his religious beliefs in the two seasons he played for his country as a flying wing. There were no Sunday fixtures back then.
Unlike Murray, though, Liddell did not enjoy universal Caledonian support when, he announced he would not be contesting the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics in 1924 because the heats of the event were scheduled for a Sunday in the Stade Colombes – the venue at which he made his debut for Scotland in 1922. The public reaction was far from sympathetic. As his wife, Florence, later recalled: "He was called a traitor to his country and I think he felt it quite keenly."
The popular view among the Scottish press and public was that Liddell, the reigning Amateur Athletic Association 100 yards champion, was costing his country the blue riband Olympic prize. The reaction was rather different when he returned home from Paris with the gold medal from the 400m and the success story that was to hit the silver screen in Chariots of Fire. Liddell was mobbed at Waverley Station and paraded around the streets of Edinburgh. He became a missionary in China and died in a Japanese internment camp there in 1945.
Murray has always been a decidedly different member of the front-row union, a piano player rather than a piano shifter and a qualified vet too. He was brought up as a Christian but, by his own admission, had allowed his belief to slip before the fateful autumn night at Hughenden in 2005 when his head collided with Anthony Horgan's kneecap during a Celtic League match between Glasgow and Munster. The accident sent Murray into convulsions and in the two months of recuperation that followed his religious conviction strengthened into the centrepiece of his life.
"The seizure made me realise that life is short, so I started to question things like, 'What are we here for?' and 'Where am I going when I die?'" he said. "And then I started reading the Bible and my life was transformed. It wasn't me that did it; it was Jesus Christ.
"I just wasn't happy with myself. I felt like I was living an immoral lifestyle. When I became a Christian my life away from rugby changed hugely. I went to church; I looked after myself more; I used my time better; I prayed. It's the most important thing in my life."
It has become so important to Murray that instead of propping in the front row for his country on Sunday, as he did when their opening game fell on a Sabbath in 2008, he will be praying from a pew in a Baptist church in Govan.Reuse content