Conor Murray: “South Africa’s Twitter Game Plan is a Funny, Weird Subplot” | British and Irish lions
IIt’s the line-and-ladder element of any British & Irish Lions tour that is so infinitely fascinating. For Conor Murray, the ups and downs were unusually strong, from the appointment as tour captain to the Covid isolation to the failure to start the first test. Now he’s back in the box seats and trying to outsmart the two former Münster coaches in South Africa.
Murray, as level-headed as it gets, admits the past few weeks have been a “roller coaster” that he hopes will culminate in an unbeatable Lions 2-0 series advantage on Saturday. However, his time at the side of the Springbok duo Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber in 2016-17 taught him not to take anything for granted.
According to the 32-year-old Irish Scrum half, the two have a “good cop, bad cop” relationship and will be back on their computers this week to search for new Lions weaknesses to exploit. “We have to be prepared for a few surprises,” said Murray, who was selected for the crucial second test before Ali Price. “Rassie and Jacques like to think hard about the game so they will see everything we do. Rassie can surprise you sometimes, so we have to be prepared for anything. “
After Murray’s experience in Munster, Erasmus is the more demanding teacher and expects an ultra-physical reaction to South Africa’s defeat in the first test. “He was a tough player, he expected his players to be tough. If the physical side of things was ever missing, or if anyone shrank from it, they would be told.
“There was definitely a time and a place for this hardship in Münster and then Jacques was the good policeman. They basically worked in tandem. If Rassie attacked someone in the Munster locker room, Jacques would have a quiet word with them and tell them what Rassie actually meant and that it was coming from a good side. ”
Rassie Erasmus (right) and Jacques Nienaber helped bring South Africa to glory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Adrian Dennis / AFP via Getty Images
Lions therefore expect a “bok whip” from their hosts. Like almost everyone in Lions camp, Murray was slightly baffled by Erasmus’ social media antics this week but believes this is just a sideline to the main event. “Like any coach after such a defeat, he will try to get his squad and cheer him on emotionally. Will he try to get her revved up again and again for this fight? Probably. Rassie can say a lot of things, but he’ll surely have a clear plan for how they’re going to get out and attack the game.
“I don’t know what his game plan is on Twitter or what the joke is, really. It’s just a fun, weird thing that takes place as a subplot. I don’t think it will take the pressure off your shoulders. We know exactly what comes out of the tunnel on Saturday and we have to meet it. “
Murray and colleague Faf de Klerk’s respective tactical contributions will also be of great importance, with the # 9 blonde sale being central to the success of South Africa’s territorial game. The Irishman’s box-kick ability is also one of his strongest suits, and explains why, at least initially, he was preferred to the nimbler Price.
Win these hotly-fought aerial duels and beat the buzzing De Klerk and, in the opinion of the Lions, you’re halfway through. “Faf is central to anything they try to do. The way he runs the game; the energy it is trying to generate. It becomes confrontational and he leads that too. He’s not afraid to interfere. You always want to win your individual battles and there are plenty of them on the pitch. It will be a real test match. Yes, South Africa will come back and be a little more excited, but we are also excited to see what we can do on Saturday. “
If anyone needs to know exactly what to expect at the end of a Lions show, it’s Murray. In Australia he came from the bank in 2013 to win the series victory against the Wallabies in Sydney; Four years ago in New Zealand, his pivotal attempt in the Second Test did a lot to help the Lions get a 1-1 series result.
This time, Murray will always cherish the day on which Warren Gatland invited him – as it turned out, to temporarily take over as tour captain of the then injured Alun Wyn Jones. “After the Japan game in Murrayfield, we waited for the cap ceremony. I knelt on the couch and Gats kicked my shoe.
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“I looked up and the last thing I asked him to do was, ‘Do you want to command the tour for the rest?’ It was an amazing feeling. I suppose when the news came in you got a sense of how big the thing was. Be the team captain, sit on the bench, start… this tour has pretty much everything for me. “
For Murray and the Lions, the next few days could be the most emotional.