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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 7 December, 2019

Murray believes in Lions' potential ahead of the biggest game of his career

The Lions scrum-half wants his side to keep attacking for 80 minutes tomorrow.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

“IT’S GETTING REAL now. It’s definitely getting real.”

Conor Murray sums up the mood on the streets of Auckland, as Lions fans continue to pour in ahead of tomorrow’s first Test against the All Blacks in the famous fortress of Eden Park [KO 8.35am Irish time, Sky Sports].

Conor Murray Murray will be a vital figure tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Walking down Queen Street towards the ferry terminals in Auckland, every second person appears to be wearing a red jersey or some sort of Lions gear. Queues to meet the All Blacks in one sports store snake around the corner of the block, in both directions.

There are pints in hand from early in the afternoon, while the earlier arrivals show signs of fatigue from the night before. Barring one incident where Lions tour manager John Spencer was accosted by a drunken New Zealander, the welcome has been hearty.

And the anticipation levels are off the charts across New Zealand, as Warren Gatland’s men get set for tomorrow’s attempt to break the All Blacks’ 23-year winning streak at Eden Park.

Gatland has already said that “records are there to be broken” and that’s exactly how Murray and his team-mates are viewing the challenge.

I think we’re all aware of it,” says a relaxed Murray, who feels that this is the biggest game of his career. “We’ve all played in Eden Park and we know how tough it is to win here.

“Teams have played against New Zealand and come close, the home nations have won against New Zealand in the past, so I think we’re drawing on that more so than looking at their impressive record in Eden Park.

“This is a whole new team, a whole new pod of players with massive talent and I think we’re more excited about that. It is a really impressive record but if there ever was a team that has the potential if we click, we’d be excited about what we can do.

“That’s the challenge, a challenge against the best team in the world and it’s where you want to be.”

Conor Murray Murray wants the Lions to keep attacking at Eden Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Both teams went through their captain’s runs on Friday afternoon without any late hiccups and it appears that both 23s will line out exactly as named on Thursday.

With many players’ families – including Murray’s – and partners arriving into Auckland in recent days, the Lions have been able to switch off from the pressure of this build-up, comfortable in the belief that they are as well prepared as they could possibly be.

Murray says they will take an attacking mindset into this first Test, that being the only way to beat the All Blacks – one of his key lessons from last November in Chicago.

“One of the main things for me is that you’ve got to be confident and willing to play rugby against the All Blacks. I’ve learned in the past, in 2013 in Dublin, we got quite a good lead and then we probably panicked a bit and tried to maintain that lead and hold out.

Whereas looking back on the Chicago game, you’ve got to keep playing, you’ve got to keep attacking and stay in the game – not go into your shell. That’s easier said than done and again that’s the challenge, to maintain that for 80 minutes.

“Decision-making, execution of game plan, all those things come into it too but for me the main thing to do is keep playing.”

That message has been repeated all week by Gatland and his players, and it’s likely that captain Peter O’Mahony will be driving it home tomorrow before kick-off.

Murray knows O’Mahony better than most, having played right through the age grades with him at Munster, and he feels the Cork man is more than ready for the biggest challenge of his Test career.

Conor Murray Murray has played with O'Mahony from a young age. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It was always in him, he was always a leader, he was always someone who if something wasn’t done right he’d want to put it right and he wouldn’t be happy until it was,” says Murray.

“Just knowing him as a person, when we all came into Munster with the likes of Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara, all these guys, we have grown up with them and probably taken a lot of experience off them, and learned an awful lot.

“For me, from a young age in underage sides where Pete captained me, he has been the same. Obviously, he has learned as time as gone on, as different experiences have come his way he has developed his leadership skills because it has taken him to a whole new level now.

“But the really pleasing thing from my point of view is that it hasn’t changed him and he hasn’t changed this week.

“He doesn’t seem more stressed, he has taken it in his stride, it has always been a dream of his to captain the Lions and you know the lads really respect him. He speaks and you can see lads listening and that is massive.”

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Murray Kinsella

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