For Scott Johnson, there was never any doubt about who would be the cornerstone of the Scotland scrum against Wales at Murrayfield tomorrow afternoon.
Geoff Cross, a qualified doctor, might have put in a fine shift as tighthead prop in the odds-defying, territory-and-possession-defying 12-8 win against Ireland in Edinburgh a fortnight ago, but the No 3 jersey was always going to be handed back to Euan Murray, the qualified vet who keeps the Sabbath clear for prayer.
“Euan is a quality rugby player,” said Johnson, who is on a roll of two successive victories as Scotland’s interim head coach. “People forget that, with all of the other issues and comments that everybody has. But underneath he’s a quality rugby player, a world class tighthead.
“He was one of the surprise packets when I first took the Scotland job. I’d coached against him and never really appreciated how good a tighthead prop he was – both in the set-piece and around the park.
“I think a lot of that has been lost in other comments about his personal life. The fact is he’s a quality tighthead prop.”
In last season’s Six Nations Murray found himself playing second fiddle for the No 3 spot behind Cross in Saturday fixtures against Ireland and Italy. Johnson, who has succeeded Andy Robinson on a temporary basis, was asked whether he was comfortable with the fact that the 32-year-old Worcester Warrior was available for some games but not others, Murray having announced in 2009 that he would not play on Sundays because of his Christian beliefs.
“Look, the reality is that the kid has made a decision,” Johnson replied. “I’m not judge and jury. I’ve got a job to do, to coach a team.
“Yeah, we’d like the best players available all the time, but the trick from our side is that if a kid gets an opportunity like Geoff he’s got to keep doing it, at all levels. Geoff did everything we asked him to do against Ireland. Fair play to him; he did really well.
“But we have to acknowledge that in the two previous games Euan was nothing short of sensational. Euan’s got good runs on the board. He provides us with an edge.”
Murray’s non-playing Sabbath stance has made him unavailable for some major games for his country – the 2011 World Cup pool decider against Argentina, the visit of the All Blacks last November, the Ireland match a week last Sunday – and has coincided with a peripatetic existence at club level. In the past 12 months he has moved from Newcastle to Agen to Worcester.
“The last year has been difficult,” he acknowledged. “Moving around with your family, uprooting them...it’s quite tough, living out of bags and things. You’re thrown in the deep end a wee bit in certain situations. Sometimes you sink; sometimes you get your head above the water.
“But it’s been fun. And I’m always learning stuff. I learned a lot under Andy Robinson and it’s great to work with Massimo [Cuttitta, Scotland’s specialist scrum coach]. He’s an outstanding scrummaging coach. It’s good to be under his tutelage.”