Conor Murray knows time is running out to make an impression as Alex Corbisiero comes flying into contention
Tour has been an eye opener for scrumhalf but he knows he is still number three pick for the Tests
Ryan Grant (left) and Alex Corbisiero, who have been called up into the Lions touring squad as replacements. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
This tour has, already, been an eye opener for Conor Murray. There’s been training with players from three other nationalities in shorter, sharper sessions, as well as experiencing the Lions’ culture. And then there’s been playing in Australia for the first time.
In this, there’s been one key difference to anything he’s experienced. “Definitely the abuse you hear from the crowd,” he says with a smile. “It’s a different type of ‘banter’, as they say. For the players who are playing anywhere, when you’re warming up, you can hear the Aussie lads screaming at them, which is great for the atmosphere and things like that. But you just got to be able to block that out of your mind.”
He wasn’t inclined to share any of this banter, but nor was he complaining. “It’s good, it’s good. It’s entertaining. You’ve just got to block it out. Maybe being a bit closer to the action, and the stadium being so close to the pitch, you could hear more things.”
There won’t be anything like the same sense of occasion tomorrow in Newcastle, for the game which has been the hardest sell to date, although even his 80 minute watching brief in Suncorp Stadium was instructive, notably the way Ben Youngs guided the team home.
“Whatever weather comes up on Tuesday night I’m just going to have to play the right game and guide the pack around the field whatever way we’ve been training towards. So that’s what I’m looking to do.”
Youngs’ performance, coupled with Mike Phillips’ standing, means that through little fault of his own Murray most likely remains third in the scrumhalf pecking order. While “quite happy” with his assured cameo off the bench in Hong Kong, Murray was frustrated by the Force’s offside fringing in the first half before the Lions began to open them up.
As one of three specialists in his position, and with only three more games before the first Test, time is running out. “As the games go on your chances are thinning down an awful lot. You have just got to concentrate on the time you’ve got on the pitch and do as best you can.”
Ironically, having missed out on the cut, Alex Corbisiero is probably better positioned to stake a claim for the first Test, at least on the bench. After an injury plagued 12 months which has limited him to a dozen games, the pleasant and articulate English prop had sympathy for Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins.
“Oh, massively. You never wish an injury on anyone in this game and especially when it’s from the position you have been in. It’s very sad to see guys go down injured. At the same time it’s an opportunity for you, so as much as you feel bad for someone you need to take that opportunity as best you can. That’s the way I’ve looked at it.”
Corbisiero was in Salta in Argentina last Wednesday preparing for England’s first Test when his coach Stuart Lancaster called him down by the hotel pool to inform him of his Lions call-up. “I was like ‘that’s a bit surreal’. Within 24 hours I was on my way from Salta and I got here yesterday (Saturday).”
His trek took in about 35 hours in total, from Salta via Buenos Aires, Santiago, Auckland and Sydney to Brisbane. “I watched a series on my iPad of White Collar. I got it off Lee Dickson and Steve Myler before I left. Loaded my iPad up. It was quite good.”
“It wasn’t easy, five flights and a bit of a journey. I’m not complaining at all. I’d have taken 10 flights if it took it. I’m just really grateful to be here and for the opportunity to be here. It’s incredible.”