Friday 15 December 2017

'Conor Murray is probably the best scrum-half in the world' - Former Lions and All Blacks coach has huge praise for Irishman

CJ Stander, left, and Conor Murray
CJ Stander, left, and Conor Murray

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Dunedin

World Cup winning coach Graham Henry has hailed Conor Murray as the best scrum-half in the world after his performance against the Crusaders on Saturday morning.

The former Lions and New Zealand coach was full of praise for the Ireland and Munster No 9 who was part of the 12-3 win over the leading Super Rugby team that kick-started the tour.

The accuracy of Murray's kicking was a key facet of the touring side's win as he linked up well with both Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton.

And his performances have caught the eye here in New Zealand where Crusaders coach Scott Robertson described him as world class and Henry went a step further, saying he is a world-leading player.

"Conor Murray was outstanding. He's a very composed player, he knows the game and he never gets rattled,' he told RadioLive NZ.

"He's probably the best No 9 in the world. Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton who came on, they ran the game well.

"So, Alun-Wyn Jones had a big game as captain, he led by example; led well.

"Have they got the attackers to do the job? Maybe, we'll have to wait and see. They're the best players in Europe so they must have some ability.'

The ex-Wales supremo, who led the Lions in Australia in 2003, said the Lions will continue to play to their strengths in the face of some criticism from New Zealanders about their style of play.

"They played very poorly against the Barbarians, a team who played with huge passion, and then they got better against the Blues but couldn't do the job and they got better again on Saturday,' he said.

"They are constantly going up.

I just think it's a difficult game to play and when you have to develop combinations under extreme pressure – these franchise sides are some of the best teams in the world – and you just need time.

"I understand the New Zealand public have been watching the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs play some amazing footie, but it's a different game, isn't it?

"The Europeans play a different game to what we play here, they have to; they play in different positions and they've been brought up differently in rugby. They play to their strengths.

"Some New Zealand people think they have to play like the All Blacks, it needs to be spectacle but what they need to do is play the way they normally play and win playing their game. That's the beauty of rugby, that not all teams play the same.

"That's what I find fascinating, the contrast in styles.

"You saw the style of the Lions against the Crusaders,they took the points that were on offer, almost; I think they kicked one to the corner.

"The Crusaders had four kickable penalties and they went to the corner on three. The old business of taking the points when they're there has changed recently in Super Rugby. Is that the case in international rugby? It's not.

"I find it fascinating and I hope they improve and we have a massive Test series.'

Although many thought the Lions got the edge at the set-piece yesterday morning, Henry believes the tourists must improve in the scrum as well as working on their attack ahead of the Test series.

"These guys have never played together before, you can imagine picking an All Black team from around the world who haven't seen each other and they always start a bit shakily, they always show a bit of rust… that's why they're playing Samoa.

"These guys have never played together, you've got to give them a chance.

"They've got another two, three games before the Tests and hopefully they can get a few combinations working.

"The big thing is they dominated territory, possession and their defence was outstanding. Andy Farrell's work has been very, very good. It's easy to coach defence, because you haven't got the ball. It's easier to work combinations when you're not playing with the ball.

"They'll be very happy. There are two areas of concern, one is the attack – they'll keep working on that and the other is the scrum. The Crusaders scrum is basically the All Black tight five and they gave them a bit of a touch at scrum time and they'll be concerned.

"Pre-game to post-game, they've a very different feeling.

"I think what we saw last night is that it's going to be a good contest come Test match time.

They're here to win the series, that's what they've come here for. In international rugby it's about winning, there's different ways of winning and there's not one that's correct.

"It may not be as exciting to the eye, but it's a hell of a good way of playing the game if you've been brought up that way. There's no point in playing a game you're not capable of playing.

"So they're playing a game they're capable of playing, the attack needs a bit of attention and the scrum is under pressure but they've made big strides.'

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