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'I'm not just going to go there and wish him all the best for the Test match'
Wales’ Rhys Webb will be fighting Conor Murray for the Lions’ nine shirt.

WITH BEN YOUNGS HAVING to withdraw from the Lions tour due to very sad family reasons, the race for the starting nine shirt is now between Conor Murray and Rhys Webb.

While it’s certainly not impossible that Greig Laidlaw, called in as Youngs’ replacement, could work his way into the Test picture, the experienced Scot is starting from a position as the clear third-choice.

Liam Williams and Rhys Webb Dan Sheridan / INPHO Rhys Webb and Liam Williams at Lions camp yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

2013 tourist Murray is the front-liner in many people’s minds, having been one of the leading stars of Ireland’s win over the All Blacks last November and generally shining for Ireland and Munster this season.

Webb, however, will also be coming off a superb campaign for the Ospreys and Wales, and the 28-year-old is heading to New Zealand with the intent of upsetting the odds and wearing the Lions’ nine shirt for the Tests.

“Conor’s been there, done it before, hasn’t he? He’s been a Lion before, so I’m kinda the underdog, I suppose,” said Webb before the Guinness Pro12 awards on Sunday.

“I’m looking forward to it, I love the challenge. I’ll go there, I’m not just going to go there and give him a pat on the back and wish him all the best for the Test match, I’m going to go there to push him.”

Warren Gatland will be a keen observer of the Pro12 semi-final between the Ospreys and Munster at Thomond Park on 20 May, when Murray and Webb will both be central to their side’s hopes of advancing into the championship decider.

Meanwhile, Laidlaw has a Challenge Cup final and possible European qualifying clash with Connacht to come in the next fortnight, giving him further opportunity to impress Gatland.

“I get on well with them both but I’m looking forward to the battle next week and then looking forward to working with them,” said Webb.

“Hopefully we can bring the best out of each other, which is going to be a very tough tour down to New Zealand. Hopefully we can bring the best out of each other and the best out of the team to get a result out there as well.”

Ospreys  Rhys Webb Billy Stickland / INPHO Webb is a major running threat. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

One of Webb’s main strength is his sniping game, with his darting runs often cutting the defence apart around the fringes of rucks.

The Welshman is not one to overdo his sniping attempts though, waiting and waiting and waiting for the right moment to pounce.

He will be studying Munster’s defence closely this week and next week, looking for the little glimpses of opportunity.

“You just have to keep an eye on certain players, do a bit of homework, see when they get tired, maybe times I’ll have a crack,” said Webb.

“It’s just about picking the right time and moment to do that. It’s not something you can do all the time. You’ve to play with them a little bit – pass, pass, then maybe have a go then.

“It’s just instinct, little things you pick up like body shape, look at the eyes, little things like that. Hopefully, a couple of wandering eyes in the weeks ahead!”

Webb is now heading towards the peak of his powers as a senior player with the Ospreys and Wales, but he still counts himself lucky to have had strong mentors in his position through his formative years.

“I always liked having ball in hand, and I looked up to Justin Marshall when I was growing up, coming through the academy, he was nine at the Ospreys at the time.

“He was great with ball in hand as well, then Mike Phillips came along and Kahn Fotuali’i came along. I’d three very good nines in front of me, and took little bits out of their games and put them into mine.

Rory Scannell and Rhys Webb Dan Sheridan / INPHO The Ospreys face Munster on 20 May for a place in the Pro12 final. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“[Marshall] was very good, it was a dream come true to meet him and train with him, and learn from him as well.

“It’s not just him, it was Mike, Kahn – he was awesome for me, we were both pushing each other for that nine jersey, it was neck and neck. If he wasn’t playing he’d always be be helping me, and we remain good friends now.”

Whether it’s Webb, Murray or Laidlaw at scrum-half for the Lions in New Zealand, we know for sure that they are going to be under intense pressure from the Kiwis.

But Webb understands that the extra attention simply goes with the territory and says he embraces it.

“It’s getting a bit harder now, when you get into the ruck and they’re all shouting ‘I got Rhys, I got Rhys, I got Rhys’.

“It’s getting louder and louder every game, everyone’s saying it these games. It’s something I enjoy.

“Compliment really, isn’t it? It’s something I love – people targeting me, then when you get through it’s kinda ”ave that’!”

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