Graham Henry: Conor Murray ‘probably the best No 9 in the world’
Former New Zealand and Lions coach impressed by Lions progress after Crusaders win
Lions scrumhalf Conor Murray breaks with the ball during the match against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Former New Zealand and Lions supremo Graham Henry has hailed Conor Murray as the best scrumhalf in the world and believes that the Lions are coming to the boil nicely as the continue their build-up to the Test series against the All-Blacks.
Henry has stated that the tourists’ win over the Crusaders demonstrated how competitive they were always going to be come the first Test with more training and game time together.
“I think what we saw last night is that it’s going to be a good contest come Test match time,” Henry told Radiolive NZ. “They’ve only played three games, some of these guys have never played together before and it obviously takes time to get to know each other, to play with each other at this level and I think they’ll be pleased with their progress.
“I was expecting a different result, a Crusaders win pre-game and I think the Lions will have left the field thinking they’ve made progress and it’s going to be a competitive series.”
Much has still been made of the Lions’ failure to score tries against the Crusaders, meaning they’ve only scored two in three games to date.
But when this was put to Henry, he said: “I appreciate that, but you guys are expecting the impossible to happen overnight.
“These guys have never played together before, you can imagine picking an All Black team from around the world who haven’t seen each other and they always start a bit shakily, they always show a bit of rust . . . that’s why they’re playing Samoa. These guys have never played together, you’ve got to give them a chance. They’ve got another two, three games before the Tests and hopefully they can get a few combinations working.
“The big thing is they dominated territory, possession and their defence was outstanding. Andy Farrell’s work has been very, very good. It’s easy to coach defence, because you haven’t got the ball. It’s easier to work combinations when you’re not playing with the ball. They’ll be very happy.
“There are two areas of concern, one is the attack – they’ll keep working on that and the other is the scrum. The Crusaders scrum is basically the All Black tight five and they gave them a bit of a touch at scrum time and they’ll be concerned. Pre-game to post-game, they’ve a very different feeling.”
It was in the context of being asked whether the Lions had the players to score tries against the All Blacks that Henry hailed Murray, albeit this might also be a ploy to motivate Aaron Smith.
“I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see. I thought the playmakers, Conor Murray was outstanding. He’s a very composed player, he knows the game and he never gets rattled. He’s probably the best number nine in the world. Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton who came on, they ran the game well.
“Alun-Wyn Jones had a big game as captain, he led by example; led well.
“Have they got the attackers to do the job? Maybe, we’ll have to wait and see. They’re the best players in Europe so they must have some ability.”
The one-time Wales, Lions and World Cup-winning coach with the All Blacks has struck a more balanced, and welcome, tone than much of the media coverage to date which, prior to Saturday’s win over the Crusaders, had largely rubbished the tourists. In this, however, Henry is also reflective of many rugby fans in New Zealand.
“They played very poorly against the Barbarians, a team who played with huge passion, and then they got better against the Blues but couldn’t do the job and they got better again on Saturday. They are constantly going up.
“I just think it’s a difficult game to play and when you have to develop combinations under extreme pressure – these franchise sides are some of the best teams in the world – and you just need time.
“I understand the New Zealand public have been watching the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs play some amazing footie, but it’s a different game, isn’t it? The Europeans play a different game to what we play here, they have to; they play in different positions and they’ve been brought up differently in rugby. They play to their strengths.
“Some New Zealand people think they have to play like the All Blacks, it needs to be a spectacle but what they need to do is play the way they normally play and win playing their game. That’s the beauty of rugby; that not all teams play the same.
“That’s what I find fascinating, the contrast in styles. You saw the style of the Lions against the Crusaders,they took the points that were on offer, almost; I think they kicked one to the corner. The Crusaders had four kickable penalties and they went to the corner on three. The old business of taking the points when they’re there has changed recently in Super Rugby. Is that the case in international rugby? It’s not. I find it fascinating and I hope they [the Lions] improve and we have a massive Test series.”
Asked if he thought the Lions would be happy by winning 12-3 in two of the three Tests, Henry reasoned: “They’re here to win the series, that’s what they’ve come here for. In international rugby it’s about winning, there’s different ways of winning and there’s not one that’s correct.
“It may not be as exciting to the eye, but it’s a hell of a good way of playing the game if you’ve been brought up that way. There’s no point in playing a game you’re not capable of playing. So they’re playing a game they’re capable of playing, the attack needs a bit of attention and the scrum is under pressure but they’ve made big strides.”
Henry also had no quibbles with the All Blacks squad announced last week by his one-time assistant and successor as head coach, Steve Hansen. “He’s picked the side we’d all pick – 38 is a lot of players. They’ve a great team on paper and they’ve played a lot together.
“They play a lot together, that’s their big advantage. Look, it’s going to be a fabulous series I reckon, I haven’t been excited about a Test series in a long time, but this is the two best teams in the world on paper against each other. You can’t get any better than that.”