Euan Murray: Faith in my ability

Scotland and Northampton tighthead Euan Murray suffered a harrowing injury in 2005. Three years on, he is on top of his game, on top of his life thanks to his strong religious beliefs, and gunning for a place on next year's Lions tour

Danny Coyle
Saturday 29 November 2008 01:01

For a player fronting a campaign entitled 'Less pain, more glory', Euan Murray is displaying the scars of battle that suggest life in the front row is often the very opposite of that maxim.

We meet just 24 hours after the Scottish tighthead has put his body through the mangle that is Premiership rugby.

His ears are cut and scuffed, there is a bruise under his right eye fading from purple to yellow and, at regular intervals during an interview conducted standing up, he has to stop to stretch his aching legs.

Plenty of pain, not an awful lot of glory on evidence here.

To Murray, though, the soreness is a welcome alternative to the darkest day in his playing career.

In 2005 he was knocked out playing for Glasgow after smashing his head into Munsterman Anthony Horgan's knee cap, and went into seizure on the field. His horrified team-mates feared the worst as he convulsed on the pitch and the crowd at Hughenden held its collective breath at the grim scene that unfolded.

Miraculously, Murray recovered.

Luckily, he doesn't remember what happened to him. "I've seen the video," he says. "I was just thankful to be still alive. My team-mates said when they were standing on the pitch as I was going through this seizure, some of them said they thought I was dying, so it was a very scary event."

Three years later Murray is the cornerstone of the Scottish scrum doing battle with the southern hemisphere this autumn. To have come back from such a sickening, frightening episode is remarkable in itself, but it was the trigger point for more profound change in Murray's life as well.

The religious faith that had always been a part of his upbringing became his rock. Near death experiences can do that to you.

"It made me sit up," he says. "I became scared of where I was going when I died. Life's here one minute and could be gone the next. I tried to change my life and I couldn't, then suddenly my life changed and it was Christ who changed my life, that's why I have faith."

It's impressive for a professional sportsman - never mind a prop forward - to openly discuss this type of thing.

"It's the most important thing in my life," insists Murray. "It's the best thing that's ever happened to me. You want to tell people about it, why keep it to myself?"

There's no doubt that Murray's commitment to his faith off the pitch is matched by his unflinching approach on it. This is his first season in the Guinness Premiership, having agreed to join Northampton Saints before they dropped into National One, where Murray see-sawed between the gnarled, slightly less conditioned opponents of the second tier of English rugby, to the train-wreck impact of the Test arena

"You're coming up against big strong guys (in National One) but by the end of the game they wouldn't have the fitness levels; it was still intense but in a different way, there was a difference in conditioning," he says. "I was playing internationals still, so there was a big difference, a massive difference. It was chalk and cheese in terms of how the body felt after a game."

For those of us who occasionally dip a toe back into the murky waters of a Saturday afternoon front row, the agony on Sunday is total.

For Murray, a man whose impressive physique should appear next to a definition of the modern prop forward, how much worse is it after a Test?

"The day after a game I maybe get a massage, maybe an ice bath, do some stretching, but in general, just lie on my couch or try and sleep, you can't really move.

"You get a day off a couple of days before the game, but you can't really do anything because you've got to rest for the game. The next day off you get is immediately the day after the game, and even if you wanted to do something you can't because your body's in bits."

The physical toll didn't make him think twice after the injury and it doesn't now. Northampton's players were flogged in the summer in a bid to ready themselves for the step up in physicality from National One. Murray winces as he recalls the long days of summer.

"Pre-season was unbelievable this year. We were getting into the club just after 6.30am and finishing at maybe four in the afternoon. We'd be doing double weights sessions in the morning - strength, power endurance sessions, muscle endurance sessions in the gym, then strong man events - stuff like flipping tyres.

"We have a thing called the growler; you're very low to the ground and you're trying to push this metal implement along the concrete which is weighed down with big weights, no wheels, just three points of contact with the ground. You're trying to push it on essentially three plates, it's ridiculously difficult, some people couldn't move it."

The odds are Murray is among those who gave the growler a decent run for its money. His studies as a veterinary surgeon may have helped in that regard.

"I never practised, though," he says. "I went straight from vet school into professional rugby, but I did do one day a week hands-on experience in the first year, so I've been out with a vet a couple of times. It was good fun. I was just holding cows down, stuff like that; a bit of extra training for the rugby field!"

Holding off the scrummaging power of the likes of New Zealand and South Africa represented a different discipline for the big Glaswegian who knows Scotland need to start bloodying a few high-ranking noses with World Cup seedings at stake.

"You're coming up against the best in the world, it was the biggest challenge in my life and as a team it was the biggest challenge for most of our careers. I wish we'd had New Zealand last in the three-Test series."

One aim in particular is to earn a place in Ian McGeechan's British and Irish Lions squad next year. "All professional rugby players eligible will want to have a chance of going on that Lions tour," he says. "It's the top of rugby in Britain and Ireland and it's a long term goal for me, but you really can't look to far ahead."

A cliche from most players, a lesson learned the hard way by Euan Murray.

This story was sourced from International Rugby News

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