Murray not the leftfield captaincy choice people are making out - Andy Goode
Conor Murray’s promotion to British & Irish Lions captain seems to have caused shockwaves across the rugby world but it really shouldn’t have.
In reality, he was the next most experienced player in the squad after Alun Wyn Jones, is on his third Lions tour and not all captains have to be towering second rows who conform to the stereotype of what a lot of people think a skipper should be.
Murray will still lead by example but in a different way, he won’t be short of a word or two and he plays in a good position to be doing the job because he’s the link between the forwards and backs and will be in the ear of the referee.
I played a lot under the captaincy of Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio. Both are examples many people would use when suggesting what a captain should be but in reality they were quite different and Murray will find his own way.
He’s certainly not going to go out there and try to smash people, inviting others to follow him into battle, but he will be a proper organiser and someone who understands more than most the feeling in the group and the situation in the game.
Perhaps most crucially of all though, he’s a nailed on Test starter and there aren’t many of those in this squad. Ali Price and Gareth Davies are both very talented scrum halves but the control and tactical nous that Murray offers means he was always going to start.
Owen Farrell and Stuart Hogg to a slightly lesser extent would have been a lot of people’s picks to be next in line, given that they’re England and Scotland captains respectively, but they are far from automatic selections as things stand.
Farrell is in a real battle for the number 10 jersey with Dan Biggar, who was man of the match against Japan, had a poor Six Nations this year and has been playing his club rugby in the Championship. He’s got stiff competition at centre from Aki, Henshaw and co as well.
Hogg has been left out of the Exeter starting XV by Rob Baxter for the Premiership semi-final and final and, while he may well bounce back to claim the number 15 jersey, I think his position may have counted against him as well because I still think it’s tough to captain from so far away from the thick of the action.
Farrell, Hogg, Maro Itoje and others will all form part of the leadership group that Warren Gatland has spoken about in the past week or so but I don’t subscribe to the view that it’s a collective effort and I think the identity of the captain is still vitally important.
You need that strong voice that is above the others, who everyone respects, will take control and also say the right thing at the right time to get the players’ juices flowing and I think Murray has the credentials to be that voice.
He’d have done well to have ousted the likes of Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll, Peter O’Mahony, Rory Best and others as captain for Munster and Ireland over the course of his career and the circumstances were admittedly very different but Johnson hadn’t captained England when he was chosen as Lions skipper for the South Africa tour in 1997.
It’s heart-breaking for Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric, who was on his third Lions tour and has been ruled out with a shoulder injury as well, but there were always going to be injuries in the lead-up to a Lions Test series.
I think Josh Navidi was very much the next cab off the rank in the back row and was unfortunate not to have been named in the original squad. He can also play across the whole back row and that versatility is invaluable.
Adam Beard’s selections has raised a few eyebrows but James Ryan was ruled out through injury and Jonny Gray might have run him close but Beard helped sure up Wales’ lineout during this year’s Six Nations and he’s a man Gatland clearly knows and trusts.
It remains to be seen whether it’s a blessing or a curse but selection on this Lions tour seems more wide open than ever with very few certain starters. Murray is nailed on to start at number nine and that, combined with his experience, makes him a good choice.
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