Most props are hauled off the field around the 50-60 minute mark, blowing harder than a February gale, but so far this season Stirling County’s international age grade player Murphy Walker has played the full 80 on nine occasions.
It has proved useful practice for Scotland Under-20s duty because the versatile prop has played almost every minute of every match in the age-grade championships thus far and has done so in two positions.
When Sam Grahamslaw was in good shape, Walker started at loosehead against Italy and Ireland. When the Leicester man succumbed to a nasty back injury, Walker was shunted from tight to loosehead for the match against France with Euan McLaren, pictured, in the No 3 shirt. The switch seemed to suit Scotland who milked several scrum penalties from the gargantuan French pack and then held their own in last Friday’s win over Wales.
“I played loosehead at 18s down in Wales [two seasons back] and then I moved to tighthead last year,” Walker explained. “There was a bit of a prop crisis when a couple of boys got injured. I played pretty much all Six Nations and World Championships at tighthead and at school. I really enjoy it.
“This year, just because Sam Grahamslaw has a back injury, it’s been a bit of a problem. For the team it’s handy that I can play both, so I moved across to play loose.
“Both have different techniques and arts to them but my preference is tighthead. I’d say that going from tight to loose is easier than going from loose to tight. After the 18s playing loosehead and going back to school to play tight it was almost like learning it all again.”
In the opening three rounds the young Scottish side played well in parts, scoring five tries against France and taking the lead against Italy before relinquishing it. However, last Friday’s win over Wales at Meggetland was their first 80-minute performance of the competition, actually 75 minutes since Wales scored twice at the death.
Even more impressive was the fact that the Scottish U20s nailed it without perhaps one third of their first-choice starting XV, which was good going given Scotland’s lack of numbers in any paerticular year group.
Did Walker see the win coming? “To an extent I did because the whole week, every single session we had, was spot on,” replied the prop. “There were hardly any balls down, boys put in the right contact when we needed it, everything just ran so smoothly. It’s been the same this week as well. It’s pretty exciting.
“That win was a massive boost to us. If we didn’t win that game I don’t know where we went wrong during training? The boys have belief. I think that was lacking in the first couple of games, belief and confidence. The boys are raring to go, they are just so excited, raring to get out there again.”
Not only has Walker played almost every minute of every match (he was subbed against Wales five minutes from time), but he insists that he is the type of player who wants, perhaps even needs, regular rugby. He was even complaining about the two “down” weekends in the Six Nations, arguing “if you are in good form you want to stay in good form”.
He will need good form tonight against England who, he insists, have the best set scrum in the competition. They also include some well connected characters because England’s No 8 Rusi Tuima is not only the nephew of former Fiji skipper Akapusi Qera but also the cousin of Joe Cokanasiga, the giant England winger who did considerable damage against Italy. He was inevitably dubbed the “next Lomu” and dropped by Eddie Jones for his trouble.
As for Walker, he would probably settle for being the next “Zander Fagerson” another prop from Strathallan School and one who looks the part more than the slimmer, younger man. Walker was an unused substitute in the corresponding match last season, a game the Scots won, and he is concentrating all his considerable energies on tonight’s encounter at Franklin’s Gardens.
“It’s a weird one because England did lose to Wales but we’ll take nothing for granted,” said the prop. “We are not the biggest pack so we rely on our height in the scrum and the back five provide the pressure.
“We have been dominant against France, we have shown we can hold up against Wales and, again, we were dominant against Ireland so it’s good to see that we are becoming the dominant pack having not once taken the back seat this year.”