Cadan Murley interview: Rugby needs a combine like the NFL

Cadan Murley training with England
Cadan Murley (left) is in the England reckoning - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

The shock of their Saracens shellacking is just about wearing off as winger Cadan Murley sits down at the coffee shop overlooking Harlequins’ new indoor training facility.

The grim beauty of a beatdown such as that Harlequins suffered at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is that it provides crystal-clear clarity to the importance of Saturday’s home game against Bath at the Stoop, which in Murley’s view is a “make or break” game in terms of their play-off ambitions.

“A loss like that can go one of two ways: you can harness that fire you need so you can bounce back next week or you can go completely the opposite way and everyone goes into their shells and the same thing happens again this weekend.”

The stakes are similarly high for Murley’s individual ambitions leading into England’s summer tour to Japan and New Zealand. After finishing as the Premiership’s leading try scorer in the 2022-23 Premiership season having been runner up in the 2021-22 campaign, the 24-year-old looked poised to capitalise upon the inevitable changing of the guard that followed the 2023 World Cup.

Yet a cruelly timed pair of knee and foot injuries meant that Murley fell down the pecking order at just the wrong time with Tommy Freeman and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso seizing their opportunity during this year’s Six Nations. Murley had to satisfy himself with scoring a hat-trick for England A against Portugal as his wait for a first senior cap goes on. Yet, Murley was far from disheartened at watching Freeman enjoy a breakthrough Championship.

Cadan Murley of England runs with the ball during an England Training Session at Brighton College on June 19, 2023 in Brighton, England
Murley's international opportunities have been affected byt badly timed injuries - Getty Images/Steve Bardens

“That gives you motivation because it shows they are giving boys a shot who are performing,” Murley said. “The likes of Tommy Freeman, who was probably one of the best players in the Premiership, to see him rewarded with a start in all of the games was great to see. I want to get back to being bang in form so that gives me the best chance of making that tour.

“The amount of young English wingers is brilliant. It is exciting. You know that every week you have got to go into the game at your best. This weekend, you have Will Muir and Joe Cokanasgia who are both around. It is massively exciting and I relish the challenge of putting my foot forward.”

England head coach Steve Borthwick has told Murley to continue to focus on his “super strengths” around his ball-carrying. Murley also counts his ability over the ball thanks to his grounding as a teenager openside flanker as a trump card while his raw acceleration will rank among the very best in the Premiership.

Quite how high no one knows, although Murley would be happy to partake in a race to settle who is the quickest, much like they have at the NFL combine between the best college American football players along with former Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit. “That’s what people want to see,” Murley said. “They want to see who the fastest player in the Premiership is. They want to see who can bench press the most. Who can jump the furthest/highest. You look at the fitness industry videos on TikTok they get huge numbers. I am not really an NFL fan but I tune into the combine because I love watching these incredible athletes and the numbers they are hitting.”


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Murley quickly admits that there would be myriad issues to resolve around scheduling but in his head already knows who his competition would be. “There are some quick, quick lads out there,” Murley said. “I would like to think I am up there if you are doing a 40-yard dash. Adam Radwan is probably the favourite. Ollie Sleighthome is rapid. Ollie Hassell-Collins, he’s deceptively quick.”

This could be extended to props such as Fin Baxter, who is faster than some of Harlequins’ backs, while Murley would nominate young hooker Nathan Jibulu as the club’s representative for a benchpress contest. “I think he is chasing down Joe Marler’s record which is over 200kg and he is only 21,” Murley said. “He must weigh 110kg but is already doing multiple reps of 180kg. He is a freak, but that’s what people want to see.”

Cadan Murley of Harlequins dives in to score their fifth try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Northampton Saints at Twickenham Stoop on October 02, 2022 in London, England
Murley's speed and athleticism have been reguarly displayed in the Premiership in recent seasons - Getty Images/David Rogers

As the son of a lieutenant colonel in the British army, Murley had a nomadic childhood, moving between Surrey, Germany, Cornwall and eventually a more settled period in Salisbury. “I went to three different primary schools so adapting to change has been massive for me.” The constant was the influence of his father, Jon, who impressed upon his son the importance of discipline and respect as well as coaching him through the age-grades.

Yet Murley was struggling to break through in the Wiltshire and Dorset set-up until he secured a trial at Harlequins. “The coaches in my county team told me multiple times that you’re never going to make it, you are too small,” Murley said. “You are never going to amount to anything. I will always be grateful to Harlequins for giving me the chance to establish myself.”

Murley was part of the same academy intake as fly-half Marcus Smith and for a time they were flatmates, which may help to explain their near telepathic understanding on the pitch. “I have played with Marcus since I was 16,” Murley said. “I like to think we have got a really good relationship and a lot of my tries come off the back of reading the way he plays. I know with Marcus for instance he will look twice if he wants to cross kick. If he looks once, he just does that generically. If I see that second look then I start to change my width.”

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