Conor Murray must start for the Lions; the joy of the Ulster Championship

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Gerry Thornley believes Conor Murray should start for the Lions in the first Springboks Test. Photograph: Steve Haag/PA

Gerry Thornley believes Conor Murray should start for the Lions in the first Springboks Test. Photograph: Steve Haag/PA

Conor Murray should start at scrumhalf for the Lions in Saturday’s opening Test match against the Springboks - according to Gerry Thornley. The Ireland number nine had looked a shoo-in for a starting berth after being named tour captain following the withdrawal of Alun Wyn Jones through injury. The return of the Welshman, coupled with Murray’s performance in the defeat to South Africa A, has led to some debate over who should start in the halfbacks - but Thornley believes the Munster man remains Warren Gatland’s best choice. He writes: “Ronan O’Gara talks about some players bringing presence, and Murray has long since belonged in that category. It comes with 94 Test caps, including five for the Lions. He also brings a calmness, a low error count, that box-kicking, a footballing assuredness, excellent defending and physical strength on both sides of the ball.”

In his column this morning Kevin McStay has admitted to becoming an Ulster Championship convert, after last weekend’s thrilling semi-finals between Monaghan and Armagh, and Tyrone and Donegal. He writes: “Through commentary work, I have found myself frequently attending these games over the past decade. And I found myself becoming fascinated by what is in many ways an independent competition within the All-Ireland. You have to attend the games and the places to fully appreciate what the Ulster championship is about. It is a secret in full view.” And he believes Sunday’s defeat to Tyrone showed Donegal are a team at the end of their cycle - while the victors are on their way up. “Donegal’s failure to reach the next level will lead to the departure of a lot of familiar faces on the pitch and the sideline. New voices shake things up. And Donegal have probably reached that moment now. In contrast, Tyrone had that new voice and new approach on Sunday.”

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