'This is the biggest game of my career' - Conor Murray highlights importance of All Blacks clash
Conor Murray says tomorrow’s first Test between his Lions side and New Zealand at Eden Park is the biggest game of his career.
The Munster and Ireland scrum-half made the comments at an eve of game press conference at the tourists’ Auckland base overnight as thousands of fans poured into the capital ahead of the eagerly anticipated clash.
Murray played in the second and third Tests of the Lions’ series win in Australia four years ago, while he has enjoyed big days for province and country but says tomorrow’s game against the world champions takes top billing.
The 28-year-old has been in sparkling form this season and has carried his good play on to the tour, becoming an indispensable part of the team Warren Gatland hopes will be able to enjoy the first victory over New Zealand on home soil since 2009.
"Yeah, to put simply. I think so," Murray said when asked if this games ranks as the biggest he’s played.
"Just to be involved in a group of players like this; the talent that we have... to get the nod from the coaches fills you with confidence.
"To test yourself against the best team in the world is going to be really special, so to put it simply, yeah.
"There'd be something wrong with you if you didn't enjoy this, if you didn't take it in.
"Just being out for a walk, there's may more fans on the streets and the buzz is building nicely.
You've got to bring it back to the enjoyment, this is a massive opportunity and honour and you've got to take it all in and enjoy it as much as you can."
Murray’s box-kicking and decision-making will be central to the Lions’ game-plan as they look to become the first away team to beat the All Blacks at their spiritual home where they haven’t lost a game since France won there in 1994.
"I think we're all aware of it. We've all played in Eden Park and we know how tough it is to win here. Teams have played against New Zealand and come close, the home nations have won against New Zealand in the past, so I think we're drawing on that more so than looking at their impressive record in Eden Park," Murray said.
"This is a whole new team, a whole new pod of players with massive talent and I think we're more excited about that.
"It is a really impressive record but if there ever was a team that has the potential if we click, we'd be excited about what we can do.
"That's the challenge, a challenge against the best team in the world and it's where you want to be.
"I think we have a side that can manage a game quite well, we've got subs that can come on and steady the ship or continue in that style of play, that's going to be crucial.
"The same if it becomes open, the coaches back us to play heads-up rugby as well. If we see opportunities and we want to go for them they'll back us. We've got to be ready for any type of game against the All Blacks. They can throw anything at you and you've got to be able to adapt.
"We've trained well and hopefully we've covered our bases enough to put in a performance."
Murray said the Irish players who enjoyed success against the world champions in Chicago last November will draw on that experience.
"It's something you definitely take confidence from, it's not the be all and end all, it was a long time ago," he said of the Soldier Field win.
"But to show that it can be done is certainly something we can be proud of. We have looked at that game and certain things we did we will try and implement as well, but again it is a new group of players, it’s a completely different task but to know that it can be done is definitely something we are going to build off.”
Murray’s long-term team-mate Peter O’Mahony is captain of the side for tomorrow’s game and the Limerick man says his old mate has not been fazed by the job.
"I’ve known Pete for years and years, and it’s really refreshing to see that it hasn’t changed him at all. He hasn’t tried to be a different person since he’s been named captain," he said.
"He’s just gone about rugby the way he usually does. He’s a guy who, when he speaks, people listen to him. His messages are thought out and they’re clear. They have meaning behind them. He doesn’t talk all the time. He talks when it’s needed, and people respond to that.
"Then playing-wise, you’ve seen it for years. He’s a hard player, he will try his best to lead by what he does on the pitch and people are going to follow him.
"I’m delighted for him. I’m delighted for him and his family. It’s a massive thing for him, and I think he’s itching to get out there now and play for the Lions in a test game.
"It was always in him, he was always a leader, he was always someone who if something wasn’t done right he’d want to put it right and he wouldn’t be happy until it was just knowing him as a person, when we all came into Munster with the like of Paul O’Connell, O’Gara, all these guys, we have grown with them and probably taken a lot of experience off the, and learned an awful lot.
"For me, from a young age at underage sides where Pete captained me, he has been the same.
"Obviously, he has learned as time as gone on, as different experiences have come his way, he has developed his leadership skills because it has taken him to a whole new level now and the really pleasing thing from my point of view is that it hasn’t changed him and he hasn’t changed this week.
"He doesn’t seem more stressed, he has taken it in his stride, it has always been a dream of his to captain the Lions and you know the lads really respect him.
"He speaks and you can see lads listening and that is massive."