James Murphy-O’Connor, who died on 10th August aged 89, was an Ireland rugby international credited with developing a revolutionary technique known as the “round-the-corner” goal kick in the late 1940s.
Standing 6ft 6in tall, Murphy-O’Connor, the oldest brother of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, now Roman Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, was the tallest player to have represented Ireland when he ran out against England at Twickenham on 13th February 1954.
Although he was a forward, in a career during which he represented the Combined Services, Bective Rangers, London Irish and Leinster — as well as Ireland, he was the goal kicker of choice for club, province and country. This was as a result of a kicking success rate which derived from a technique, which he developed in the 1940s, of stroking the ball with the instep of his boot rather than the traditional toe cap “punt” that most kickers had used up to that time.
Murphy-O’Connor’s kicking style is still used by top kickers like Jonny Wilkinson today. With hands clasped together and an uncomfortable looking stance they step back two or three paces and then two paces to the side. That is followed by an arced run up, the ball is kicked sweetly with the instep of the foot and flies clean and true through the uprights.
Murphy-O’Connor represented Ireland at a time when the Grand Slam-winning side of 1948 was in decline, and his appearance against England was the first time Ireland had played in the Five Nations without its star player Jack Kyle since that triumph. Murphy-O’Connor scored Ireland’s only points of the day in February 1954 with a characteristic penalty kick from the halfway line. Although he was selected for the Scotland game later that season, he was unable to add to his cap as a result of injury.
The son of a GP and the eldest of six children, James Colman Murphy-O’Connor was born at Reading on June 6 1925 to Dr George and Ellen Murphy-O’Connor. Along with his four brothers he attended Prior Park College in Bath, where his youngest son, James, is now headmaster.
The Murphy-O’Connor family contained doctors and priests. Fr Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, the biblical scholar, who died last year, was a cousin. Three of Murphy-O’Connor’s brothers, including Cormac, would take Holy Orders, but “Jim”, though he held a deep faith, followed his father into medicine.
He began his training at St Mary’s Paddington, where he played in the 1943 side which included the future England fullback Nim Hall, and which won the coveted Hospitals Cup under the watchful eye of King George VI.
After a brief stint as a telegraphist in the Royal Navy, Murphy-O’Connor completed his training at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. His decision to represent Leinster during these years brought a mild rebuke from his father and uncle, both of whom had captained Munster (the family had its origins in the city of Cork).
After qualifying, Murphy-O’Connor moved back to England to start his medical career and became a partner in his uncle’s general practice at Slough, where he eventually became senior partner.
After his rugby career, Murphy-O’Connor turned his sporting talents to golf, competing in the Irish Amateur Open in 1955. In retirement he enjoyed following most sports, including horse racing and football – he was a supporter of Reading FC.
In 1957 James Murphy-O’Connor married Anne O’Neill, sister of the Irish rugby international William “Boldie” O’Neill. She survives him with their six children.
James Murphy-O’Connor, born June 6 1925, died August 10 2014.