Murray is on Gatland's Lions bench. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Conor Murray has an important role to play off the Lions bench - Gatland

Ali Price has been named to start at scrum-half against the Springboks.

WARREN GATLAND SAYS Conor Murray has an important role to play for the Lions off the bench this Saturday in their first Test against the Springboks.

The Lions head coach has picked Scotland’s Ali Price to start at scrum-half ahead of the highly-experienced Murray, who was the starter in all three Lions Tests in 2017 and is on his third tour.

Murray had long been the favourite to be picked for this weekend’s clash with the Springboks in Cape Town, particularly after he was named tour captain in the wake of Alun Wyn Jones’ shoulder injury.

However, Jones has since re-joined the tour and starts in the second row on Saturday, while Gatland has opted for Price at scrum-half following a string of sharp performances on this tour, including last weekend’s win over the Stormers.

“We’ve been really impressed with him [Price],” said Gatland.

“I thought his running game against the Stormers was really good. His variation in terms of getting the ball away quickly. 

“But in saying that, it’s not just about the starting 15 and looking at South Africa and particularly up front and the bench, we wanted to make sure the balance was right and how important our bench is going to be with experienced players coming off the bench.

“You’ve got players like Conor, Liam Williams, and Owen Farrell who are disappointed not to be involved but having that experience, they will have a chance to come on and hopefully close the game out for us.

“So we’re really happy with the depth of our bench and how important they’re going to be for us on Saturday.”

Murray’s Ireland team-mates Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw, and Jack Conan start for the Lions, while he is joined on the bench by Tadhg Beirne.

Bundee Aki and Iain Henderson are among those unlucky to miss out on the matchday squad altogether but Gatland has told those players to keep working hard towards possible Test involvement.

“For a number of players I spoke to, I showed them some stats from previous tours of how the Test team from Test one to Test two to Test three, how many changes have been made traditionally,” said the Lions boss.

“So even though everyone is not involved, hopefully they will still get opportunities.”

Gatland said he and his assistant coaches had gone through a painstaking process of picking the Lions’ matchday 23.

The head coach asked each of his assistants to pick their own 23s and said that there were only four forwards and just three backs in common across all the selections.

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