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'I’ve seen the tough times he’s been through' - Murray thrilled for O'Mahony

The Lions scrum-half says this squad is well able for criticism in New Zealand.

Murray Kinsella reports from Dunedin

CONOR MURRAY HAD many reasons to be pleased with his own performance for the Lions against the Crusaders on Saturday, and probably did take some satisfaction from his standout display, but he felt even more happiness for one of his good mates.

Peter O’Mahony was superb for the Lions – stealing a lineout, forcing a breakdown turnover, carrying strongly, passing well and more – and his Munster team-mate was thrilled.

Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony celebrate winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Murray has watched O’Mahony struggle in recent times, most notably after he ruptured his cruciate ligament at the 2015 World Cup and spent a year out of action.

The blindside flanker worked his way back to captaining Munster and then forced his way into the Ireland team that beat England on the final day of the Six Nations this year, albeit only due to an injury to Jamie Heaslip in the warm-up.

Back in Ireland’s number six shirt, O’Mahony showed why he should have been starting all along, helping to dismantle the England lineout and leading the Irish performance in Dublin.

Warren Gatland was impressed by that display and O’Mahony’s form for Munster, and having called him into the touring squad for New Zealand, handed the 27-year-old his first Lions start against the Crusaders.

O’Mahony took his opportunity impressively to announce himself as a major contender for a Test start against the All Blacks.

“He’s a happy man at the moment, a close friend of mine,” said Murray after the Lions’ win on Saturday. “I’ve seen the tough times he’s been through. He worked incredibly hard to get back in the picture.

“I can see it in him, he is not just happy to be here, he is another one who really wants a Test place. He is pushing himself, he’s on the computers a lot.

“You can see it in him. Like for most people, competition really is red hot, and he is relishing it.”

Conor Murray with Jed Brown Murray was in excellent form for the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Murray’s performance was another part of the much-improved Lions performance in Christchurch, with the victory having given this tour a renewed energy.

But even with all the positives, the Lions are realistic about their performance levels and appreciate the fact that they must start converting try-scoring chances. Murray is happy to see the opportunities being created, however, and feels the clinical edge will come.

“It’s something we’ll look to improve on, but the fact that we are making linebreaks and busting teams, and we counter-attacked well off a few kick receipts, is really pleasing and then it’s probably the easier stuff – easier than making the linebreaks is finishing them off,” said Murray, who will sit out Lions training on Monday with a minor finger injury.

“If we weren’t making linebreaks, you’d be more worried. But it is something that is progressing. The night, the slippery ball, the slippery surface dictates the way you play a bit. I thought we managed it quite well. Hopefully we’ll start finishing a few.”

Even without having finished the many opportunities at AMI Stadium, the Lions’ performance has lifted some of the gloom around them.

Speaking after the game, head coach Warren Gatland said the criticism just two games into the tour had made for a difficult week, but Murray said the players hadn’t felt that pressure as much.

“I think the coaches would be aware of that more so, they try and keep that away from us,” said the Munster man. “After a loss like that [against the Blues], and in a rugby-mad country, there is going to be criticism – we knew that coming down here.

Anthony Watson and Conor Murray celebrate winning Murray shares a joke with Anthony Watson. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We are prepared for that and willing to accept that. We want to win games; when you lose you have to take it on the chin and move on.

“We are all experienced enough that if you lose, you know there’s going to be criticism and it’s about how you deal with that. With the type of players and characters we have, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”

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Murray Kinsella

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