Conor Murray shines for Lions through the rain and mist
‘We converted pressure into points, which was really pleasing,’ says Munster scrumhalf
Conor Murray delivering one of his 10 kicks for the Lions during the win against Maori All Blacks. Photograph: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport/Inpho
Last Saturday night was tailor made for a vintage Conor Murray performance, and he delivered one. Once again he kicked more than any other player, 10 times in all, and whether steepling box kicks or long touch finders, they were all on the money. As the NZ Herald on Sunday put it, it looks like he punts at a basketball hoop for practice.
But there were also 55 passes, more than twice Tawera Kerr-Barlow and thus any other player on the pitch, and all of them were on the money too, while there were eight carries and six strong tackles all over the park. His reading of the game and innate footballing shone through the rain and mist.
Raining down bombs, marching behind a dominant, mauling and scrummaging pack, in a febrile atmosphere, in a team wearing red, and led by Peter O’Mahony. Remind you of anywhere Conor?
“A little bit yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not sure, I can’t quite get the name, but I think it’s a bit familiar.”
The point being that it was cup rugby and mightily effective.
“We converted pressure into points, which was really pleasing. I keep going back to the conditions but it’s winter down here, and it is going to be difficult, so you adapt to the conditions and you play what you think your strengths are.”
“I thought we did that quite effectively and the kicking part is one part of it. The maul and the scrum put us in positions to kick penalties to touch, and gain territory. I thought it was quite effective and managed well.”
And, he said, enjoyable.
“You could see it in the lads’ body language, that it was really enjoyable. Because the pressure was on us. Any time you lose over here, people tend to get on your back and it was a really good way to respond, and the group is in a good place now.”
As for O’Mahony reprising his role as Munster captain in Lions red?
“The usual, sure I’m used to him talking the whole time! I thought it was really important that he didn’t change. That will stand to him. Suddenly you’re named as Lions captain, and maybe that might put a bit more pressure on him, but he was his usual self and he played really well tonight. People really respect him around the place. He knows he has a chance of being involved and like every other player he’s keeping his head down and working, and trying to get the nod.”
“I think from playing against him fellas really respect him anyway. He’s a hard player, he leads by his actions on the pitch and lads followed him tonight, which was great. It’s a massive honour for him and his family, and I’m delighted for him.”
To the notion that the Lions are a divided squad, Murray laughed and said: “Yea, someone said that didn’t they? No, not at all. I think people are talking about the additions to the squad and it all happened in 2013 too, and we were a really tight group. Every single player was in the dressing-room a while ago singing the Fields of Athenry. We sing one of the songs from all the four countries if we win. So they’re just going to buy into it. Everyone will welcome them. It’s probably difficult for those lads to come in, but lads seem to have welcomed them really well, and I’m sure they’re relishing an opportunity to play for the Lions, and there’s massive focus on the group. And there’s no divide.
“Right now things are going well but we know, you see the All Blacks the other night and they’ll be a massive test so we’ve got to kick on again. But definitely, the fans coming in and the numbers around, the group is getting tighter and we’re enjoying playing together. So it’s good right now but we’ve a massive amount to work on throughout the week.”
All the signs are that he will be renewing his rivalry with Aaron Smith.
“That would be nice. He’s a top player, I’ve played against him a couple of times and massive respect for him, TJ as well and tonight against Kerr-Barlow. They’ve a wealth of experience and class at ‘9’.”
Murray is in prime form and at the peak of his powers. He says he’s happy with where he is, before deflecting the focus onto those around him, and especially in front of him.
“We’re gelling really well and we’re able to read each other without having to say too much, which is a sign that things are going well.
“Yeah, I feel good about it, I feel fit and feel ready for it, ready for the challenge of the next week or so.”