Saturday 24 February 2018

Conor Murray: I think it’s OK to say I want to be a Test starter

Auckland , New Zealand - 1 June 2017; Conor Murray of the British and Irish Lions during a training session at the QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Auckland , New Zealand - 1 June 2017; Conor Murray of the British and Irish Lions during a training session at the QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ruaidhri O’Connor

FOUR years ago, he was the third choice scrum-half who played his way into Test contention but there is no doubt that this time around Conor Murray has his eye on the starting No. 9 shirt from the off.

Injury may have checked his run, but Warren Gatland was in Chicago when he was the ring-master in Ireland’s history-making win. That day he would have been pencilled in as a leading man and this week he gets his chance to take another step towards that goal.

The Lions coach has gone on record in saying that Murray would have started had they had a fourth Test in Australia and he has only grown since.

Whether it’s against the Blues of Auckland on Wednesday or the unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday, he will be handed a first start this week.

Having joined the squad late due to his Munster commitments, his first mission is to assimilate but he has his eyes firmly on the main prize.

“You can take a certain amount of confidence from four years ago, it was my first tour, I didn’t know what to expect of it or myself, I loved it and I lapped it up and really enjoyed the experience,” he said. 

“This time round I do have a different outlook on where I want to be and I think Rhys (Webb) and Greig (Laidlaw) are two really good No 9s.

“I have different goals in my head about how I want this to go and I think it’s OK to say that, I think it’s OK to say you want to be the Test starter; you want to play in the Test because they’re the games that are remembered. 

“But it is going to be really tough to get into that team, just training with the lads it’s great to train with players of that calibre, there’s going to be different combinations, form is going to go up and down, hopefully your own form keeps going up and up and you can time it well coming into the Test team.

“It’s a long way off, my goal now is just to fit into the squad, the lads had the week in the Vale (of Glamorgan) and the week in Ireland that we missed out on, there's a lot of homework for us lads to do and try to get up to the pace of where these guys are at and then when you get your chance to play you try to take it with both hands because I genuinely believe the competition for places is so tight it’s going to come down to how you play in these games. 

“Maybe Warren and the lads have a few ideas in their heads of combinations and people they may want to play but I think it’s just so tight that it will probably come down to who goes better in the mid-week games and the weekend games leading up to the Test.”

Murray is rooming with Wales’ Dan Biggar and has been handed the role as MC on the bus as the Lions make their way around New Zealand in the coming weeks.

He has parked Munster’s desperately disappointing final defeat to Scarlets and will revisit the province’s capitulation in August.

The challenge of succeeding in New Zealand is, he says, all encompassing.

“Warren’s just embedded in us that it is gonna be a lot different to Australia,” he said.

“The games in the lead-up to the Tests are going to be really challenging.  You just sense it from the whole organisation, the coaching staff and the players and the staff further a-field, you know this is going to be a lot different than it was four years ago, it’s going to be a lot tougher but I think everyone seems to be ready to up their game for that.

“I’m only here a few days now but there is an air around the place that there’s something bigger than it was four years ago and that’s the way it needs to be because the All Blacks are better than what Australia were four years ago and that’s just the way it is and it’s going to be a hell of a few weeks.”

“This is such a hot-bed of rugby is absolutely everywhere, to be able to switch off with each other and have a laugh is massive. 

“We do work when we go on the pitch we do work really hard, when we’re in the gym we work really hard. 

"With the physio’s and the masseurs it’s very professional but you do need that switch off time, I think it’s massive because it’s six weeks of intense rugby so when you get a chance to chill out and go for a coffee with the lads or do whatever, a few activities then you’ve got to do that it’s got to happen naturally so I think the lads are getting on very well so far so it’s a good start.”

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