CONSIDERING how rarely any prop forward in professional rugby plays more than an hour of any match these days, it was a fair old effort by Murphy Walker to manage 76 minutes in his first start at that level for Glasgow Warriors against Edinburgh last Friday night. It is even more remarkable because he played the first 40 of those minutes at loose-head prop and then switched to tight-head for the next 36, before taking a well-earned break during the final four minutes with the win for his team already in the bag.
“Honestly, I wasn’t too bad,” the 22-year-old replies when it is put to him that he must have been knackered. “Against Scarlets [the previous week when he was an early replacement for the injured Oli Kebble] I was worse. Coming on after 10 minutes, I knew I couldn’t leave the field, so I was trying to pace myself but didn’t know how to do it. I felt a lot better at home and we had momentum which helped.
“I’ve been lucky because when I was under Eddie Pollock at Stirling County in my first year out of school, I played the full 80 minutes in 10 out of 16 games, so I was used to it back then. After Covid and my injury last season I put on a bit of timber so I’m trying to get used to my size, but I really enjoyed it.”
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Asked about that mid-game switch from loose-head to right-head, he shrugs: “I speak to a lot of different props and they feel it is almost impossible, but for me I just do the opposite of the other. So, at loose-head I do one sort of tactic in terms of hitting up and all the dark arts, then I just reverse it on the other side.
“I personally don’t find it that hard to swap across mid game, mainly because I’ve done it a lot especially in the Premiership when you could only have one prop on the bench. I would usually end up doing 60 minutes of tight-head [his preferred position] and then move across to do 20 min of loose-head.”
Walker was a frustrated onlooker – nursing a ruptured hamstring – last season as several of his academy pals grabbed their chance to impress in the Warriors shirt. He is certainly making up for lost time now, and can draw comfort from Warriors head coach Danny Wilson handing him his first senior pro contract in January, from the knowledge that he is still a long way off what is generally regarded as the peak years for a prop [late 20s and early 30s], and also from recognising that his period on the side-lines may work in his favour in the medium to long-term.
“We were doing a full contact session and I happened to go over the ball straight legged and was cleared out by one of my best mates [academy hooker Angus Fraser with whom he started out on his rugby career at Dundee minis back in primary four], and I ruptured my hammy – it was a 31-centimetre a grade four tear which meant it was pretty much off the bone,” he recounts. “I had to go down to London to get operated on four days later, then came back to Glasgow and had 6½ months of recovery
“But I needed that time to build my physique a bit and work on areas that were less developed, so I focussed on that instead,” he adds. “Watching your mates do so well while you’re stuck in the physio room was probably the hardest part, but it’s all worked out in the end I suppose.”
Walker’s potential was apparent throughout his progress up the age-ranks, during which time he was captain of the Strathallan team which won the Scottish Schools’ Cup in 2018, and then had two years in the national under-20s side.
He cut his teeth in senior rugby playing for Stirling, initially in the Premiership and then Super6 when that part-time professional league was launched in 2019, before things really began to escalate after returning from that horror hamstring tear this season, with his work in training and performances off the bench in three matches earning a surprise call-up to the full Scotland squad during the build-up to last weekend’s Six Nations denouement against Ireland.
And with Rory Sutherland, Jamie Bhatti and Kebble all out injured, Scotland forwards coach John Dalziel claimed that it was entirely conceivable that Walker could make the match-day squad in Dublin if either Pierre Schoeman or Allan Dell dropped out during the week.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” the player says of his time in the national camp. “I did quite a lot of work with Pieter de Villiers [Scotland scrum coach], mainly looking at my loose-head work. I also spoke with JD [Dalziel] and Gregor Townsend and they were looking at bits of training to see where I could improve. It was just the whole thing – being in the hotel, around the boys, the whole insight was amazing.
“I was shocked when I got the call,” he adds. “We had played Scarlets on the Saturday, flew back to Glasgow and then were supposed to have four days off. I’d gone home [to the family base in Lonforgan just outside Dundee] and on Monday morning I was helping my dad fill in potholes on the road to the house when I realised I had a missed call from Pieter de Villiers. I phoned him back and he said: ‘We want you in’.
“It was quite a crazy 24-hours. I had to get back to Glasgow from Dundee and then across the Edinburgh. I got my kit and met everyone at the hotel. It was good, I really enjoyed it.”
The truth is that Walker’s dramatic rise to prominence is largely down to a series of injuries at loose-head prop, but there is no doubt that he has been identified as a player with big potential which could be realised sooner rather than later. He has even been tipped as a bolter for Scotland’s tour to Argentina this summer.
“I don’t want to count my chickens because I just want to focus on the task in hand at Glasgow first,” he sensibly concludes. “I’m a big believer in focusing on short-term stuff and if that goes well then everything else will follow. Obviously, I would absolutely love to be on that tour because it sounds like an amazing opportunity and to be capped by Scotland would be a childhood dream. But my main goal is to get as much game time for Glasgow as possible before the end of the season and kick on from there.
“With Zander [Fagerson] and other players coming back it is going to be tough to get back in that 1, 3, 17 or 18 jersey, so that’s all I’m really thinking about at the moment.”
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cracking performance against Edinburgh.
Watching him through age grades I worried he might not have the physique to play prop in pro rugby. He proved me wrong against Edinburgh, but he did look to have gained some muscle bulk, as he explains in the article.
Just one game but was very comfortable at LH (don’t think his opponent was ever going to be a worry TBH), but beasting a very good loose head after moving over was very impressive.
Thought he looked great against Edinburgh’s very good props last week. Fingers crossed he keeps getting game time to continue his development, Scotland could really do with some young front-rowers coming through, it’d be great to see the likes of Walker and McCallum given Test time in the summer.
During the first season of Super6, against County, Gordy Reid was very-unjustly yellow carded. Steam was coming out of his ears and when he went back on, he took his frustrations out on Murphy at a couple of scrums. But, Murphy stood-up to the ordeal and I sensed in that game – this kid has a chance. Pleased to see things starting to work out for him.
Good to see Murphy doing well