Tuesday 24 October 2017

Murray hungry to hunt with the Lions

Conor George

Conor George

CONOR MURRAY'S acknowledgement of his desire to be included in Warren Gatland's Lions squad is refreshing.

All too often players will coyly bat away questions surrounding their chances of inclusion in the summer tour to Australia by insisting they haven't thought about the prospect – while frantically assessing the form of their competition in the background.

Murray wants to be a part of the tour. He is honest enough to insist that every player with a realistic chance of travelling is hopeful – "of course it's at the back of your mind and you do check the form of other players" – but he also realises the competition for one of the three scrum-half berths is intense.

"The competition for the scrum-half position is immense," stated Murray (23). "All the contenders had strong Championships and are in with a good shout of making the squad.

"I've just got to keep playing my game and make sure I'm in the mix when the squad is announced."

Mike Phillips is favoured to start the first Test at least and, while Ben Youngs and his England team-mate Danny Care are favoured by some critics, it would be foolish to dismiss Murray's credentials after a very strong Six Nations.

Deservingly

He and Phillips were the only two scrum-halves included in the short-list for the Six Nations player of the tournament – deservingly won by Leigh Halfpenny – and neither English scrum-half showed the consistency that Murray did during the tournament.

Indeed, Murray's leadership skills and maturity were to the fore in Ireland's final three games when he was partnered at half-back by the inexperienced Paddy Jackson – suddenly thrusting the Munster No 9 into the veteran's role of the half-pairing.

The former Garryowen player was solid through the tournament and was truly outstanding against France.

He was one of the few Ireland players to emerge from an arduous tournament with his reputation enhanced, which will surely stand to him when Gatland mulls over his scum-half picks.

"I was quite happy with my own performances in the Six Nations," said Murray. "I think I have taken a step in the right direction with Ireland. I've taken up a bit more of a leadership role.

"During the games I felt I knew when to kick and when to run. I've got to try and bring that back to Munster now and push on.

"I honestly wouldn't know where I am in the pecking order for the Lions, but I'd like to think I am in the mix."

Murray and Care will come head to head in the Heineken Cup on Sunday week, when Munster travel to Harlequins, and that should make for compelling viewing.

Murray's game is not without its flaws, of course, but his strengths certainly out-weigh any negatives.

His box-kicking, which had been identified as a weak point of his game, has improved immeasurably in recent times, and he has also improved the crispness of his passing.

One of his strongest assets is his ability to snipe while his defensive work is also truly excellent.

It all adds up to a package that should appeal to Gatland, but only the Lions coach knows whether it will be enough to sway judgment in the Munster man's favour.

Murray, along with the other Irish players, had last week off after his Six Nations exertions – "I switched off from rugby totally" – and he is feeling re-energised as a result.

"We have a Heineken Cup quarter-final to look forward to. But we also have a chance of qualifying in the league," said Murray.

"It was a pity we didn't get our bonus point against Connacht at the end, but there was still a lot of good play there, so in that respect there is a lot to play for in the Rabo.

"It's a big ask but there are 20 points on offer and it will be very hard to get those 20 but right now we still have something to play for.

"As players you want to be in contention for silverware every season. That's what motivates us. It's at the back of the mind the whole time and you can't hide that fact.

"It's up to us to put ourselves in the position to make it happen."

Irish Independent

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