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'We've had a lot of choir practice, a few questionable song choices'

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland’s Lions squad flew to Edinburgh from their Jersey training base on Thursday evening satisfied with the bonds that have been developed by Conor Murray and co during their near two-week stay on the Channel Island ahead of this Saturday’s match against Japan prior to their departure for their South African tour. 

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Twenty-five of the 37-strong assembled for day one training on June 14, a number that increased to 33 at the start of this week. Only the four-strong Exeter contingent have yet to link up with the Lions but the players that have been in the camp have been busy getting to quickly grow the bonds among a squad drawn from across four rugby nations. 

Singing, beers, FIFA championships and WhatsApp group mischief were all mentioned as off-field activities that have gotten the Lions off to a positive start in gelling together as a group. Third-time Lions tourist Murray reckoned the bond already felt really good – even though some of the songs that were being sung weren’t too easy on the ear.  

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“We have had a lot of choir practice, a few questionable song choices from the nations but we are getting there,” said Murray, the Lions scrum-half for this Saturday’s game in Scotland. “We had a few beers the other night and it was our best rendition yet. Tadhg Beirne fancies himself as a singer. Tone-deaf. Tadhg Furlong. I know I’m picking a few Irish but they are the lads I stand beside when we have our choir practice. No, it has been good fun.”

“We have got four songs,” explained assistant coach Gregor Townsend. “Each country had to nominate a song from their country so we have Loch Lomand, Zander Fagerson was in charge of us. Wyn Jones, Calon Lan from Wales, You’ll Never Walk Alone was Courtney Lawes’ contribution for the England squad and Jack Conan was in charge of Ireland and that was Wild Rover. We sang that a few times together.”

Asked who the practical jokers have been so far, Townsend wasn’t fully sure but he suggested the backs in the squad were getting up to most of the antics. “It’s hard to tell just yet,” he said. “Liam Williams has got that (prankster) side to him. I have seen a few messages on WhatsApp and I can see him coming through. Bundee Aki. I think it will be a back. They have not emerged fully yet but they are a great bunch. 

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“They are getting on really well with each other. We have a couple of sociable occasions but outside of the social occasions you see them sitting after meals together, you see them bonding on the training field so they are forming that squad togetherness very quickly. 

“They arranged a FIFA championship. I walked into the team room yesterday [Wednesday] and Josh Adams was winning quite easily against Ali Price and Toby Faletau. That was what was arranged on their day off. They have been quite active on their days off playing golf, boat trips, some history trails so they have made the most of this wonderful place we are staying in. We have had a couple of good nights together and there has been a lot of singing.”

A tourist in 2013 and 2017, Murray has been inspired by what he has seen so far from the class of 2021. “Chris Harris is a bit of a funny guy, getting to know him quite well off the pitch. There are loads of relationships forming, the bond is really good. 

“Having us in a bubble is aiding that. We all realise how close we are going to live together for the next while so we have to realise we have to get along and lads have been making that effort. Having been on a couple (of tours) this time it feels really good. There is a natural bond and a bit of craic about the place.” 

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Breaking up the Irish midfield off the pitch will be a test, however. “Being Irish getting Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw to separate is going to be a massive challenge,” quipped Murray. “If one comes in the door the other one is sure to follow. But genuinely there are good bonds all over the place.”  

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'We've had a lot of choir practice, a few questionable song choices'

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