Alex Massie

Scrummaging for Jesus

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Another Saturday, another trip to Murrayfield. Frank Hadden is not a lucky coach; the Scotland front five was supposed to be the team's strength but Nathan Hines will miss the entire championship, while Euan Murray's rib injjury has kept him out until this afternoon's must-win match against Italy.

Murray's an unusal rugby player. Not only is he a qualified veterinary surgeon, he's a born-again Christian. This would scarcely be worth mentioning if he were American (many NFL locker rooms, for instance, are well stocked with religious fervour and team prayers and prayer meetings are common) but in British rugby it's something rather different. You get a flavour of this from an interview Murray gave Scotland on Sunday's Tom English earlier this season:

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.

"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."

"Why?"

"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.

"Definitely."

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." Tom's a good journalist and a fine fellow and, being an Irishman, hardly a stranger to the idea of religious conviction, but it's an indication of just how secular Scotland has become that a man's faith, albeit that of the convert not the cultural catholic or presbyterian, should be such a talking point.

Anyway, what matters today is that Murray takes his scrummaging cues from the God of the Old Testament, not the nicer fellow in the New. This is no time for turning the other cheek and all that.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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