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win first Conor Murray happy to welcome Alun-Wyn Jones back as Lions captain


British and Irish Lions' Conor Murray in action. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

British and Irish Lions' Conor Murray in action. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

British and Irish Lions' Conor Murray in action. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

CONOR MURRAY says he has no issue with handing the Lions captaincy back to Alun-Wyn Jones who arrives in Cape Town today.

However, there is still every chance the Munster man will lead the Lions into the Test Series against the Springboks on Saturday week as Warren Gatland said there is no guarantee that the tour captain will start after making a remarkable recovery from his dislocated shoulder.

Indeed, the coach dropped a broad hint that he may hold Jones in reserve. The second-row will not feature against the Stormers on Saturday as he is isolating and thus can’t train with the team until Monday.

Having been a shock choice to take over from Jones who suffered the injury in the eve of departure win over Japan, Murray led the team in their first defeat on tour against a South Africa ‘A’ team packed with Springbok talent in what was a mouth-watering dress-rehearsal for the three-match series.

And he says winning the series is the only thing that matters.

"It's an unbelievable recovery from Al, he's a top fellah and I really felt for him when he went off against Japan,” he said.

"For him to turn it around really quickly, he's been an unbelievable professional his whole career and it's no surprise to me.

"I want to win a Test Series with the Lions and having the best men available to do that is what I want.

"You know, I welcome Al back absolutely. He'll add a lot of experience, leadership and he's a top player too.

"It's not an issue for me, I'm a player who wants to win a Test Series.”

Despite the 17-13 loss, Murray enjoyed the experience of captaining the team.

"I loved it, it was a really proud night for me and my family,” he said.

"I don't think it affected my preparation, you think about what you're going to say in the dressing-room and at half-time you have so many people talking anyway and we're trying to fix things together.

"I really enjoyed it, it was a massive honour to lead the team this evening.

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“I'd have liked to have won, but as a whole we can be really proud of our effort, particularly in the second-half."

Gatland says he will hold a meeting with his current captain and the returning tour captain on Thursday.

"Well, I'll just wait until he (Jones) arrives tomorrow and then we'll sit down and have a conversation and talk about where we go from here,” he said.

"He's been taking a full part in training, he'll have two or three days of isolation before he can start fully training for us which will be next Monday.

"We'll just reintegrate him back into the camp, we'll sit down with him and Conor and have a chat about where we go for the rest of the tour.

“It's not (a formality that he starts). He hasn't had any rugby for the last three weeks, even though he's been taking a full part in training and stuff.

"It's going to be a conversation about what we do with the team, because I think in the game at the moment having guys coming off the bench is incredibly important - guys who can make a difference.

"I thought our bench was pretty good today, it gave us an impact and that will be incredibly important in the Test matches.

"That we have players who come off the bench, give you something, energy and also that experience and ability to be able to change the game.

"Those are things... there's no guarantee that anyone will be selected. So, those discussions will take place after Saturday's game."

One element of Murray’s captaincy that came under scrutiny after the defeat was his decision to tap a succession of penalties on the Springbok line when the hosts were down to 13 men.

Gatland backed his captain.

“I was happy with the players and decisions,” the coach said.

“The fact we decided to tap and go, we wanted to work on that element of the game and physicality to use from an attacking perspective.

“I thought we were pretty unlucky just before half-time that we didn’t get a try awarded. He’d given a try as his on-field decision and it was overturned by the TMO. If that had been awarded, it would have been 100pc the right decision.

“You’ve got to back the players to make the right calls and the right decisions.

“I thought Conor did a very good job during the week in terms of leading the side. I was very happy with how he did that and pretty happy with his performance also.”

Despite the defeat, Gatland was upbeat about his team's chances in the Test Series.

"Considering they were pretty much at full-strength and we got a good feeling for how it was, we needed that tough hit out and the players are pretty bullish in the changing-room, they're pretty confident that we can handle whatever they throw at us going forward," he said.

Rónan Kelleher is travelling with Jones having been called up for the remainder of the tour. The 23-year-old spent two weeks’ in camp with the Lions in Jersey before returning to the Ireland squad.

Meanwhile, a delighted Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus reiterated his desire to play the Lions again on Saturday instead of the South Africans playing the Blue Bulls and the Lions playing the Stormers, but Gatland ruled out the possibility.

Indeed, the Kiwi coach expressed his bemusement at the former Munster coach’s decision to don a water-carrier’s bib. Erasmus was a frequent presence on the pitch throughout the game.

“It was a little bit interesting!” he smiled.

“You won’t see me doing that. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. A little bit strange, the director of South African rugby also being a waterboy.”

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