Rugby union: Murphy settled in his natural habitat

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The Independent Online
Geordan Murphy is a man in demand. He can hardly manage five footsteps through the media conference room in the team hotel without somebody wanting to record his thoughts. "RTE television, Geordan. Thirty seconds, I promise," they say with a faked sincerity that would put a second-hand car salesmen to shame. "Sure," he responds with the knowing smile of a man who's aware of exactly how long it's going to take, "no problems at all."

Twenty minutes later, after UTV, BBC and Sky have gone through the same routine, he remains utterly polite and completely unruffled, the only thing seeming to bother him being the fact he has kept you waiting so long.

In a media sense, as well as a rugby sense, Murphy a professional. You ask him how he puts up with all this media stuff and he answers that it's part of the job; many players view it as an unnecessary evil. You wonder how long he will keep that attitude, because he is popping up in the celebrity pages of the Irish tabloids on a regular basis.

His crime? He has been dating English songstress Lucie Silvas for the past four years, and now that her voice is making an impression on the charts, the couple have become news. Last week one Irish tabloid ran a story suggesting that Murphy would have a sex ban imposed on him by the Ireland coach, Eddie O'Sullivan when Silvas plays at the Meteor Music Awards in Dublin later this month. It was tongue-in-cheek stuff, but how did it make him feel?

"I have no problem at all being in the sports pages," he says, "although sometimes I wonder why anyone has any interest in what I have to say. The other stuff, well, there's not a lot you can do about it really. If people want to write about me and my girlfriend I guess they're entitled to, but why it's of interest to anyone else, I'll never understand. Eddie treats us like adults and there are never any bans on anything. But I find the whole thing kind of amusing more than anything else."

Today all those superfluous factors will be put to one side as Murphy prepares to play for Ireland in the position he knows and loves best. He has always viewed the No 15 jersey as his true home, but has never quite made it his own on the international stage, for reasons many and varied.

Initially, there was a distrust of the player's talents, a suspicion that anybody who played the game so naturally couldn't possibly make a tackle or field a garryowen. Then, that natural ability became a curse, because when a shuffle was necessary, the 26-year-old was always trusted to adapt to a new position. And, of course, there was his own injury, the broken leg against Scotland that ruled him out of the game for seven months. All those reasons are redundant now, and Murphy is back where he belongs. But there isn't a Craig Bellamy bone in Murphy's body; he has never complained about being shunted from full-back to wing and back again.

"It's the one question I'm always asked, and the simple answer is I enjoy full-back better because I'm more comfortable playing there," he says. "It comes that little bit more naturally to me."

Technically then, what are the differences? "Going forward," he says, "you can see all the lines in front of you, the gaps opening up, the places where you need to go with the ball. On the wing you're slightly more dependent on others.

"In a defensive sense, you have that bit more responsibility at full- back, you have to make the right decisions as regards running or kicking the ball, and you are the last covering man." He is also keen to highlight that in a back line as talented as Ireland's, the number on your back becomes less and less important. "We've been working on interchanging positions, and that's the joy of this day and age," he says.

More than any other member of the Irish set-up, Murphy knows what it's like to touch silverware. He has won three Zurich Premiership titles and two Heineken Cups with Leicester in the past four years, surrounded by men - Martin Johnson, Neil Back et al - who would be considered winners by any definition of the word.

"If I had to highlight what's so special about these guys," says Murphy, "I'd have to say it's their attitude on the training pitch. Sure, they can have a laugh with the best of them, but they always put in 100 per cent on the training park without fail."

Murphy can now see that Leicester attitude permeating the Irish camp. He firmly believes the side should front up to rather than shy away from the favourites tag which has been foisted upon them.

"Everyone's talking about us being potential winners, and the reason for that is because we've proved ourselves over the past couple of years. And if other people think we can win, it makes me think we can do it too."

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