PETER WRIGHT has described Euan Murray as Scotland’s pre-eminent tighthead of the professional era.
The 34-year-old, who with 66-internationals under his belt is Scotland’s most-capped prop, announced yesterday that he has retired from international rugby forthwith, although Murray is continuing dialogue with Glasgow Warriors over the possibility he may continue at club level beyond the current campaign.
It was clear just how determined he was to get everything out of his gamePeter Wright
Wright was instrumental in helping a teenage Murray progress through the Glasgow district coaching structures and the former Scotland front-row admits that Murray’s bloody mindedness “way back when”, as a raw teenager, hinted at great things to come.
While Murray’s inclusion in the British Lions’ South African squad of 2009 may have represented the period when he was at his absolute playing peak and could have been considered among the very best tightheads in the world game, an ankle injury sustained against the Southern Kings cruelly ruled him out of any Test action when his potential match-up against Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira may have robbed the Springboks of their decisive set-piece dominance.
But now with Murray’s impending international retirement, Wright has no doubt that the front-row’s absence from Scotland’s Rugby World Cup plans will be a huge blow to Vern Cotter and in particular cites the loss of the tighthead’s vast reservoirs of experience, presence and leadership up front, as three key areas in which the Scots have now been left light.
“If you look at the longevity Euan has had over the last 1tenyears and 66 caps with Scotland then I have no doubt that he deserves to be described as our greatest tighthead of the professional era,” said Wright.
The former Scotland front-row continued: “If you dissect Euan’s game, then you would have to say that in the scrum he was both exceptionally powerful but also very technically proficient. In front-row terms that is the perfect combination and it has been the secret of Euan’s staying power.
“But I think he also worked very hard to make sure he was as mobile as he could be in the loose and, at his peak, he was right up there in terms of tackle counts for Scotland and also made plenty of hard yards for us.
“When you consider that it was way back in 2009 that Euan announced that his religious beliefs would mean he was no longer prepared to play for Scotland on Sundays and yet he continued to be considered as our first choice at tighthead, that only goes to underline just how important a player he has been for the international side.”
During his involvement with Glasgow Hawks and various Glasgow Age-Group squads Wright had the opportunity to work closely with the emerging Murray and highlights his one-time charge’s single-mindedness as a key driver behind the former Northampton and Newcastle tighthead’s success. A misty-eyed Wright recalled: “I remember when I first met Euan and he was at Glasgow Southern (now GHA) and it was clear just how determined he was to get absolutely everything out of his game.
“He asked me early on if I had any advice for him as a fellow front-row and I told him to make sure he always got his retaliation in first. The next time we met I was playing for a President’s XV in a fundraising game and I came up against Euan and he smacked me in the mouth in the very first scrum, so clearly he listened to my every word!
“But seriously that just underlined to me that Euan was prepared to do whatever he had to get an edge and fair play to him he has had a fantastic career for Scotland and really he has been the cornerstone of the Scottish pack for years.
“So I would have to say that I am proud, in however small a part, to have been involved in helping to bring Euan through the ranks and he has gone on to be a model professional.”
But now the impending void that will be created by Murray’s decision not to front-up for his second Rugby World Cup campaign will be a cause of no little consternation for Scotland head coach Vern Cotter.
In assessing who will step into Murray’s World Cup boots, Wright admits the choice is worryingly limited: “Right now I would probably say that the South African WP Nel, who is with Edinburgh and not eligible to play for Scotland until June, is at the front of the queue.
“You have also got to look at Jon Welsh. Before the hand injury he suffered in the Six Nations he was 50/50 with Murray for the tighthead slot at Glasgow and now he has chosen to broaden his horizons with Newcastle in the English Premiership from next season.
“You also have the young lad Zander Fagerson at Glasgow but I don’t think they will be prepared to gamble on him in terms of a World Cup. So you are really looking at Welsh and Nel.
“Being honest from a Scotland point of view, Euan’s decision not to put himself forward for the World Cup is disappointing, but then he is a family man and he has his third child on the way and at the end of the day it is his decision to make and when Euan makes up his mind it says made up. But he will be a huge miss at England 2015.”