Saturday 26 May 2018

Murray brushes off criticism and focuses on tries

Crusaders 3 Lions 12

Murray:
Murray: "The fact that we are making line-breaks and busting teams and we counter-attacked well off a few kicks is really pleasing."
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Although Warren Gatland was clearly stung by the criticism that greeted his side's uninspiring first week in New Zealand, it seems he's done a good job of insulating his players from the grief.

Having ended Crusaders' 14-match 100pc record in Christchurch, the Lions can move on from their teething problems and set their sights on the All Blacks.

Peter O'Mahony of the British & Irish Lions in action against Israel Dagg of Crusaders. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony of the British & Irish Lions in action against Israel Dagg of Crusaders. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Gatland sent a team that looked close to what he might field in the Test series and they delivered a performance that ticked most of the boxes.

Their defence was excellent, their kicking game was, according to Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, "world class", and their set-piece was dominant against an All Black tight five.

The missing link is their attacking game, but they're not panicking on that front, despite scoring just two tries in 240 minutes.

They made 13 clean breaks on Saturday, beating 16 defenders; the kind of stats that would normally result in a big result. Their final pass didn't stick, but they are confident that will come with time.

George Bridge of Crusaders in action against Maro Itoje of the British & Irish Lions. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
George Bridge of Crusaders in action against Maro Itoje of the British & Irish Lions. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"It's something we'll look to improve on," said the in-form Conor Murray (pictured).

"But the fact that we are making line-breaks and busting teams and we counter-attacked well off a few kicks is really pleasing.

"Then it's probably the easier stuff - easier than making the line-breaks - in finishing them off. If we weren't making line-breaks, you'd be more worried. But it is something that is progressing.

"The night, the slippery ball, the slippery surface dictates the way you play a bit.

Peter O'Mahony of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Israel Dagg of Crusaders. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Israel Dagg of Crusaders. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"We managed it quite well. Hopefully we'll start finishing a few."

Murray was excellent, pinning the Crusaders back time after time and putting accurate box-kicks up in the air that his wingers should have made more out of.

Outside him, Owen Farrell was an assured presence - kicking all of his side's points - and when Johnny Sexton came on early for the injured Jon Davies he moved out to the centre and the combination looked full of promise.

The Lions needed this result; the tour needed it as well.

Gatland admitted the negative press had gotten to him, conceding it was a "tough" experience.

Ben Te'o of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, left, and Bryn Hall of Crusaders. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ben Te'o of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, left, and Bryn Hall of Crusaders. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The players, however, were able to block it out.

"I think the coaches would be aware of that more," Murray pointed out.

"They try and keep that away from us. After a loss like that, and in a rugby-mad country, there is going to be criticism.

"We knew that coming down here. We are prepared for that and willing to accept that.

"We want to win games; when you lose you have to take it on the chin and move on. We are all experienced enough that if you lose, you know there's going to be criticism and it's about how you deal with that.

"With the type of players and characters we have, I don't think that's going to be an issue.

"It's a good night and a good performance and something we can build on.

"Winning was the most important thing. It was a massive challenge because we are relatively new together, we are still trying to gel and I think we're doing a good job.

"But they had a number of really good internationals, it was a massive challenge. I think we came through pretty well.

"But we won't fool ourselves. We know there is stuff we can work on.

"There is stuff we did, a few slip-ups or turnovers, that the All Blacks would finish off. Because we won tonight doesn't take the pressure off."

Murray is nailed on for a Test slot and there were others who put themselves firmly in the frame.

The back-row of Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Taulupe Faletau looked a unit with huge potential, while the front-five dominated their All Black opponents.

Tadhg Furlong saw off the two looseheads he's set to meet in the Test series, Joe Moody and Wyatt Crockett, but he wasn't getting too carried away, publicly at least, describing the night as a "mixed bag".

As professionals, their attention was already turning to tomorrow's clash with the Highlanders, but after this result they have a base from which to build.

CRUSADERS: I Dagg; S Tamanivalu, J Goodhue, D Havili, G Bridge (T Bateman 66); R Mounga (M Hunt 75), B Hall (M Drummond 62); J Moody (W Crockett 51), C Taylor (B Funnell 51), O Franks (M Alaalatoa 51); L Romano (Q Strange 56), S Whitelock (capt); H Bedwell-Curtis (J Brown 62), M Todd, J Taufua.

LIONS: S Hogg (A Watson 20); G North, J Davies (J Sexton 29 HIA), B Te'o, L Williams; O Farrell, C Murray; M Vunipola (J McGrath 62), J George (K Owens 66), T Furlong (D Cole 66); AW Jones (capt), G Kruis (M Itoje 62); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien (CJ Stander 56), T Faletau.

Ref - M Raynal (France)

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