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top man ‘I still don’t have my head around it’ – Conor Murray speaks for the first time about captaining the Lions

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Lions captain Conor Murray during the test against Japan at BT Murrayfield Stadium. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Lions captain Conor Murray during the test against Japan at BT Murrayfield Stadium. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Lions captain Conor Murray during the test against Japan at BT Murrayfield Stadium. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

CONOR MURRAY admits he never countenanced captaining the Lions before Warren Gatland pulled him to one side to tell him he’d been chosen to lead the tour to South Africa last night.

The Ireland scrum-half has never skippered a side at senior level before and now he will be charged with the key role on an already daunting tour to the Rainbow Nation where the world champion Springboks lie in wait.

The Lions were dealt a major blow yesterday when Alun-Wyn Jones dislocated his shoulder and was ruled out of the tour.

Despite the presence of Owen Farrell, Ken Owens and Maro Itoje in the squad, Gatland and his coaches have gone for Murray to provide the leadership they need on his third Lions tour.

“We’re very disappointed to lose Alun Wyn. He’s been brilliant for the first two weeks. I’ve known him from the past two Tours and he's been incredible. It’s a huge loss,” Murray told the Lions in-house media team.

“Warren asked me just before the cap ceremony and it was surreal. I still don't have my head around it, but it's something that is an unbelievable honour, it's something that I never thought would be possible.

“What kind of puts me at ease is that we've such a good leadership group that it means I can continue being myself.

“There’ll be a little bit more responsibility, but I don't think it should change anything around the camp. I think that's one of the most important things - that I remain myself, and I assume that's why Warren asked me to do it.

“I didn't think about long. I said, ‘absolutely, it'll be it'll be a massive honour thank you very much for this opportunity’. Then you kind of think about how big it is and then obviously my phone has gone a bit crazy since it was announced.

“I've been lucky enough to be on a couple of tours already, so it's something that I've said to myself that I'm going to enjoy and take every moment and really, really enjoy the experience. It's something that I'm going to relish and enjoy rather than feeling daunted by it.

“I know a lot of the lads here already, it's a group that you can feed off. When it was announced I got a big round of applause and the boys were congratulating me. It feels really close.”

Murray says he will lean into the leadership he’s experienced from his previous captains with Munster, Ireland and the Lions.

“You got to definitely understand how we're trying to play, what we're trying to do on the pitch, that's the most important thing,” he said.

“I think your messaging has to be well thought out, you know, I think, in my career I suppose when I do speak it's thought out. You know, it might not be that often, but it's definitely has meaning and there’s thought behind it, and a genuineness to it.

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“When you’re a Lion, you realise who you're playing for, what you’re trying to achieve as a player and who you want to make proud.

“That's what I've learned from team talks in Lions changing rooms and Ireland changing rooms and Munster changing rooms.

“I've been lucky enough to experience a lot of leaders and they always bring it back to who you're trying to make proud and what you're actually here for. I think driving that message is important.

“I’m quite close to Rory (Best). Rory will be a really good friend of mine, I obviously know Paulie (O’Connell) really, really well too and Drico (Brian O’Driscoll).

“Yeah if there's something that I’m thinking about saying, or whatever, then there's guys there I'm lucky enough to draw on them if something crops up.

“But, you know, right now in this group, there's such a good buzz.

“There’s such a tightness already after two weeks and obviously today getting off on a good note with a really good win against a top Japanese side we've grown closer again.

“So, I think this group is really good and can figure things out on their own for the moment and if things crop up it’s great to have those guys on the phone, as well as the coaches here. To have such experience, it's a big thing.”

Murray says he will lean on the leaders in the squad after receiving advice from Jones before he leaves the camp as they head to South Africa.

“I think Owen Farrell. There are lads like Robbie Henshaw who's is a real big defensive leader for us,” he said.

“Lads who have captained their country. There’s massive experience there so you know it'll definitely be a group thing. I’m going to enjoy it and again lean on those boys. It'll take a bit of getting used to, but it's such an honour.

“Alun Wyn just came and said ‘congrats, and just be yourself’ and I think that's really important.

“I think, growing up, you probably thought you had to try and be a certain type of person to be a leader, but you just have to be yourself. I think once you have the respect of the group around you, I think that's a massive plus, a massive thing that can calm you down a bit.

“If you have the respect of the lads and you do what you do and you do it honestly then yeah I think it should be fine. And again, I keep coming back to it, but there's various guys you can lean on in this squad. You know, it's more of a group effort.”

For now, he can bask in the personal achievement before the real work of leading the Lions kicks in.

I“I tried to call my girlfriend Joanna, but her phone was on one percent as usual! Her phone was off, so my dad is in Edinburgh, he was out with his friends having a few drinks and so he was the first person ( spoke to),” Murray said.

“My mum's in Kerry and I rang her, she's down with a few friends who were watching today’s game and they're celebrating too, so it still hasn't sunk in to be honest.

”It's a huge honour, but there's such a good group of leaders in this squad that it makes it less daunting, definitely. I think there's lads that you can lean on.

“We’ve seen it even for the first two weeks, a few other players would start to lead or start by saying a few words before training, or whatever the message might be for the week. There's a group there that know what we're trying to do, and I think that's going to be the most important thing.”

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