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'It's not an issue for me, I'm a player who wants to win the Test series'

Warren Gatland must decide whether Alun Wyn Jones is ready to start the first Test.

Murray speaks to the Lions before their game last night.
Murray speaks to the Lions before their game last night.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

CONOR MURRAY HAS indicated his willingness to hand the Lions captaincy back to Alun Wyn Jones as the original tour skipper re-joins Warren Gatland’s squad in Cape Town today.

Limerick man Murray led Warren Gatland’s team in last night’s defeat to South Africa A, his first time captaining since being appointed as the new Lions tour captain in the wake of Jones’ shoulder injury against Japan on 26 June.

While Gatland said pre-match that there was “a good chance” that Jones will resume the tour captaincy, he was less committal post-game.

“We’ll just reintegrate him back into the camp, we’ll sit down with him and Conor and have a chat about where we go for the rest of the tour,” said Gatland after his side’s 17-13 defeat. 

The Wales lock won’t be considered for selection this weekend against the Stormers but will start training with the Lions on Monday after two or three days of isolation.

Gatland said Jones is a possibility for the first Test versus the Springboks on 24 July, but stressed that the veteran is not a certainty to come straight into the XV.

“It’s not [a formality that Jones will start],” said Gatland. “He hasn’t had any rugby for the last three weeks, even though he’s been taking a full part in training and stuff.

“It’s going to be a conversation about what we do with the team because I think in the game at the moment, having guys coming off the bench is incredibly important – guys who can make a difference.

alun-wyn-jones-looks-on-after-going-off-injured-in-the-first-half Jones arrives in South Africa today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I thought our bench was pretty good today, it gave us an impact and that will be incredibly important in the Test matches.

“That we have players who come off the bench, give you something, energy and also that experience and ability to be able to change the game.

“There’s no guarantee that anyone will be selected, so those discussions will take place after Saturday’s game.”

It could be that Murray retains the captaincy for the first Test if Gatland opts against parachuting Jones back into the starting XV.

But Ireland scrum-half Murray indicated his willingness to do what’s best for the Lions if Gatland hands the captaincy back to Jones. 

“It’s an unbelievable recovery from Al,” said Murray when asked about the prospect of Jones resuming the captaincy. “He’s a top fella and I really felt for him when he went off against Japan, you just had a feeling it was a pretty serious injury.

“For him to turn around so quickly, he’s been talked of as an unbelievable professional his whole career, so it’s no surprise to me.

“Look, I want to win a Test series with the Lions and having the best men available to do that is what I want. I would welcome Al back absolutely. He’s going to add an awful lot of experience, an awful lot of leadership and he’s a top player too.

“So it’s not an issue for me, I’m a player who wants to win the Test series.”

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malcolm-marx-eben-etzebeth-and-damian-de-allende-with-conor-murray-wyn-jones-and-taulupe-faletau It was a real physical battle in Cape Town. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Whatever happens next, Murray thoroughly enjoyed his first experience of captaining the Lions last night in Cape Town.

“I love it, it was a really proud night for me and my family,” said Murray.

“I don’t think it affected my preparation. You obviously think about what you’re going to say in the dressing room and at half-time, you have so many people talking in the changing room anyway and we’re trying to fix things together.

“I really enjoyed it, it was a massive honour to lead out the team. I loved it. I would’ve liked to have won alongside it but on the whole we can be proud of our effort.”

The scrum-half had a difficult task in the opening half as the Boks got on top physically, but he showed much more of his quality after the break as the Lions mounted something of a resurgence. Murray welcomed the ferocious hit-out for the Lions.

“The first half was tough. It was probably a bit of a shock to the system in terms of the physicality we had spoken about and knew was coming. Dealing with it is a different case.

“But then in the last 15 minutes of the first half and the whole second half, I thought we dealt with it well. We addressed a few things at half time and saw the results. 

“Overall, you’re obviously disappointed with the loss but it’s about building towards the Test series and we can take a lot of positives from it, learn a lot – as I’m sure the Boks will too – but we can take a lot from it.”

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