Scottish rugby: Euan Murray interview: Sunday dilemma for keeper of the faith

SCOTLAND'S Euan Murray tells Tom English about his religious convictions and the problems posed by the Six Nations opener against Wales.

IT STARTED like this; some innocuous questions batted away by enigmatic answers, some easy queries about his fitness met with friendly reticence. Euan Murray, recent destroyer of an All Black nicknamed Whopper and a Springbok known as Beast, has metamorphosed into a hesitant creature. Gone is the wrecking ball. Here, instead, is a subtle man of mystery.

"So how was training this week?" I ask.

"Oh, I didn't train, I was only watching," he says.

"Only watching?"

"Yeah, only watching. But I can't really disclose anything. It's a secret."

"A secret?"

"Yeah, I can't say any more."

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He's laughing now, laughing and saying come on, we've better things to talk about than this. But this is kind of peculiar.

"Will you be playing this weekend for Northampton?"

"I won't be, no."

"Will you be playing for Scotland next Sunday, then?"

"Well, today is Wednesday and I can tell you what's happening today but I can't see into the future."

"Has something happened?" I ask.

"How do you mean?"

"Are you injured?"

"I can't say."

"Are you suspended?"

"No, no, nothing like that."

"You're talking like somebody who has just heard they've tested positive for drugs and they're suspended but are not allowed to say anything."

"No, no, not at all. Drugs! What are you on about, man! Are you mad? No, it's just a knock, a wee knock."

It's a circuitous route to find the truth. A bang against Toulon last weekend saw him replaced early in the second half. Word has it he should be fine for the Wales game, not that he'll be drawn on it. "Hopefully, I'll be okay. We'll see..." Is that it, though? Is that the source of the stoicism?

He's a curious man, Euan Murray. Intelligent, warm, witty and mystifying all in one. He is one of the world's top tighthead props right now, his star rising in the global game during the autumn series when he crushed the Whopper like an old tin can one week and then won a comprehensive victory over the Beast the next. The Beast was rated highly in South Africa up to then. Still is, actually. They know he's good but they now know that Murray is better and they know he's coming for them in the summer in the front line of the Lions tour. Barring injury, the Scot is a certainty.

Murray is thankful for the praise but slow to get excited about it. The ups and downs of a prop's life tend to give you some perspective. It's a tough old world these boys inhabit and nobody knows that better than Murray.

The seizure, he's spoken about. Mid-September 2005, a horrific accidental collision in a game with Munster, his body in convulsions, his consciousness lost. There were people standing over him that evening thinking that he was going to die right there in front of them. It was a petrifying ordeal that had a profound impact on his life. That's when he found God. He looked for help and found it in the Word of the Lord.

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"For about a month after it happened I had problems with my balance and at one stage I thought I was going to have to retire. That was 2005 going into 2006. I'd had a really awful run of injuries, I was falling apart at the seams. My teammates used to say, 'you know you're problem? Your body is rotten'. They were right. At times I was very low. What the seizure made me realise is that life is short so I started to question things at that stage. I had many questions. Like, what are we here for? And where am I going when I die? And then I started reading the Bible and then after quite a long time my life was transformed and it wasn't me that did it, it was Jesus Christ that did it."

"You believe that?"

"Yeah. Without a doubt."

"But you were the one who repaired your life, you were the one who worked hard on your rugby and bettered yourself. God didn't turn you into a world-class prop."

"It's two different things you're talking about. There was my life away from rugby and there was my life in rugby. When I became a Christian my life away from rugby changed hugely. I went to church, I looked after myself more, I used my time better, I prayed. I prayed about my rugby and asked whether or not I should stay in the game. I stayed and the following season the doors suddenly opened. I got a regular place in the Scotland team and things have been good ever since. Over the last few years I've found out what a Christian should be. A Christian should be the hardest worker of all."


"Because the Bible says that whatever you turn your hand to, you're to do it with all your might. Elsewhere, it says you're to do it as if you are serving Christ."

"Have you ever challenged your faith by reading something like The God Delusion?"

"Are you putting all this in the article?" he laughs.


He laughs again. "Well, you see, The God Delusion is a book that's maybe five years old and it's one man's opinion whereas the Bible is made up of 66 books that are thousands of years old and that's the one I live by."

"Have you read The God Delusion?"

"It's not on my reading list, no. I'm not saying that I wouldn't read it, I'm saying that it's not top of my priority list to read it. I'm aware of the arguments, though. I have enough conversations with people to know these things, but it's just a question of faith. My faith is the most important thing in my life, following Christ is the most important thing in my life."

"You go to church regularly?"

"I go to church on a Sunday morning and a Sunday evening and I try and get along to a midweek Bible study and prayer meeting."

"What about playing rugby on a Sunday?"

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The question is met with a long pause. A lo-o-o-o-ng pause. "I can't answer that at the moment," he begins.

"Do Sunday games cause you difficulty?"

"I just can't answer it at the moment. I'd rather not speak about it. It's a very difficult issue because of my faith. It's a very difficult issue for Christians."

"That's understandable, but people would like to know if you're available for the Wales game on Sunday?"

"Yes. Yes I am. If selected I will play the same way I always do."

"You sound like you're struggling with it, though."

"Yeah, maybe. Why? Just because... Just because... This is my stance on it. In the past, in the distant past and in the recent past, rugby players and other athletes who are Christians haven't played on Sundays. I'm aware of Christians who don't compete on Sundays and there are Christians who do compete on Sundays and currently I'm competing on Sundays. That's what it is. Currently, I'm competing. It would be fair to say that this is something that all Christians wrestle with."

He apologises for going on about it but points out that I'm the one asking the questions. Quite right. But it's hard to separate the two; the faith and the rugby. For instance, Murray felt that he was really maturing as a prop right at the end of last season, just before Scotland's tour to Argentina. If he had to pinpoint a major period in his progression those weeks would be it.

He says he moved up a gear. He became a stronger person, mentally. "It's back to religion," he says. "I don't want to harp on about it but you've asked all the questions, haven't you? I was listening to a very good speaker. A church minister. Something he was saying was based on part of the scriptures in the book of Romans. When the minister was young he spoke to an older Christian and he asked the older man what it meant to live as a Christian in this world and the older man said it meant that as a Christian I'm going to out-work you, out-fight you and I'm going to out-love you. I realised that's what I should be doing.

"It gave me a different perspective and I realised I had to do everything like that. I felt I was working hard enough previously but I wasn't really. The lads at Northampton beat me up regularly about it. There's always banter but I have a laugh with them. They give me a ribbing about my faith but I say it's good to think about these things instead of playing a computer game all day."

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In a rugby sense, does he have faith? With the Six Nations nearly upon us and the Grand Slam Welsh on their way does he believe that Scotland can fulfil the obvious potential in the ranks this season? Assuming he's fit, of course.

Well, the way he sees it is that Scotland, up to this point, have suffered from their lack of experience. The team had exciting youth but not enough maturity. Now, he thinks, that may have changed.

The upside of the agony of the Springbok Test was that it was a lesson learned. The team became a little bit older and a little bit wiser having lost a game they should have won. "Although we didn't turn over one of the big guns in the autumn we did perform very well. We almost beat the world champions. Now, almost isn't a word to be proud of. It's not good enough. However, it gives us confidence going into the Six Nations."

Times are good for Murray, if a little complicated. The dilemma of playing or not playing on a Sunday is obviously the source of some reflection in his life. Nobody should underestimate the depth of his feelings on this no more than we should underestimate his ability to come to terms with the predicament before donning his menacing game-face and scrummaging a Welshman into oblivion come the weekend. After all, he may be a very good guy but, when needs arise on the rugby field, he does a thoroughly convincing impersonation of a very bad man.



Only last year the Scottish scrum conceded a penalty try to Italy but that humiliation should be long forgotten as Mike Brewer has his men firmly on the front foot. The big boys should ensure plenty of ball for a backline with better balance than ever before and, if he's playing, Thom Evans will take a mile if he's given a millimetre.


Phil Godman has improved massively since he was first capped back in 2005 but the fly-half still has plenty to prove at this level. The midfield lacks experience and Hadden could pick a flyweight backline (Godman, Cairns, Paterson, Evans) that would blow away in a big wind.

ODDS: 15-1


Mike Blair (right) is a capable character and a smart one to boot. He is certainly a leader by example although it is too soon to say that he is also an inspirational one.


Ben Cairns seems to have been around for ever but the centre won his first cap in Argentina so this will be his first Six Nations. He already has the cognoscenti rubbing their hands in anticipation.


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I know it's a clich but how can you look past Thom Evans. At least the speedster, a good friend of former Wasps teammate Danny Cipriani, is not afraid to get his Brylcream messy. The winger takes contact with scant regard for self preservation.


They all seem like a nice bunch of boys but Nathan Hines won Scotland's first ever red card and the opposition will be pressing his buttons for all they are worth in an attempt to get the Aussie another one.


Welcome back Chris Cusiter who joins Glasgow next season but won't want to wait that long to remind everyone that he can play a bit.


Very consistent if completely useless. After finishing third three years ago the Scots have won just one game in each of the last two seasons. Must do better.


Scotland 6 France 27

Wales 30 Scotland 15

Ireland 34 Scotland 13

Scotland 15 England 9

Italy 23 Scotland 20


Fortress Murrayfield was just that in Hadden's first season and there are some signs that it may once again become a tricky place for others to play after the Scots made South Africa sweat buckets for their win in November.


Jim Hamilton's sister is a model who has already elicited several enquiries from his colleagues in the national squad.


Frank Hadden (below): more popular with the players than with the punters who bewail his constant stream of excuses. He has brought in Gregor Townsend to help a misfiring backline, it could be an inspired move… I said "could be".


"Did you know that Madagascar has more rugby players than Scotland does."


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"Sorry fellas, the press was right after all. I really don't know what I'm doing half the time."


Rory Lamont and Nikki Walker are both injured but Scott McLeod is still fuming about the doping farce which prevented the lock from getting any meaningful game time.

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