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Neil Jenkins: 'I see Conor Murray as a major player for the Lions on this tour'

Warren Gatland’s assistant has backed Murray to have a major impact in South Africa.

Murray training with the Lions this week.
Murray training with the Lions this week.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

NEIL JENKINS, the hero of the 1997 Lions tour and now employed as their kicking coach, believes Conor Murray will be ‘a major player’ for Warren Gatland’s team in South Africa.

Murray’s form has been inconsistent since the last Lions tour in 2017 but despite facing questions about his position on the Ireland team, he was one of the first names pencilled into Gatland’s squad when he announced his travelling party for the three Test series against the Springboks.

Winner of 94 Test caps – five with the Lions, 89 with Ireland – Murray has a mixed record against South Africa, winning three and losing three of the six Tests he has been involved in.

Will he be involved in the Test side this summer, though? At 32 he is more experienced than rivals, Ali Price and Gareth Davies, but Gatland has never shied away from selecting youthful players at any stage of his coaching career. Jenkins, however, hinted that Murray is in the mix for a Test start.

“Conor is a world-class rugby player as far as I’m concerned,” said Jenkins.

“He’s been doing a bit of goal-kicking with us as well, that’s something that’s come on in his game in recent years. He’s kicked a few, sadly, for Ireland against Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup and in 2018.

“He’s a massive threat whenever Wales play Ireland; we know how good he is. We’ve got to keep a close eye on him.

conor-murray Murray during a gym session earlier today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He’s excellent in the squad, he was excellent on the last two Lions tours and he’s looking good already on this one.

“I see him as a major player for the Lions. He has been that before and I’m sure he will be that again on this tour.

“He’s a fantastic player.”

Murray is surrounded by quality in this Jersey training camp with other ‘fantastic’ players due to join the squad once their club seasons come to an end in England and France. Gelling such an eclectic mix of personalities is one of the biggest tasks Gatland and his backroom team will face.

“It’s not easy, there’s no doubting that,” said Jenkins. “But these boys are the best of the best.

“They absorb stuff so quickly; they’ve got a good group together and get on very well. They worked very hard in training on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday morning, a bit of down-time together yesterday.

“A lot of the guys know each other from previous tours, from club or provincial rugby or playing against each other for their respective countries.

“So, I don’t see that being an issue next Saturday (when the Lions play Japan), I’ve no doubt the boys will be ready when the time comes.”

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Interestingly, Jenkins also believes that those players who have landed in the Lions camp already – including the seven Irish players selected – will have an edge over rivals for their position who are temporarily absent. Those players include Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, who is competing for a spot at No8 with Jack Conan as well as Saracens’ pair Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly, who will go toe-to-toe respectively with Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw plus Bundee Aki.

“The players here (in Jersey) probably do have a slight advantage,” said Jenkins.

“Getting a good week’s prep into them without a game on Saturday, they have got to do stuff they don’t normally do in this down-week.

“It’s tough, it’s demanding of them in the way we train and how tough the sessions are.

“But it’s an opportunity to put their best foot forward, for the coaches to see them for the first time before the other guys get here next week and the week after.”

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Garry Doyle

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