Conor Murray has expressed his surprise and pride at being asked to captain the British and Irish Lions on the Tour of South Africa.
The 32-year-old Munster scrum-half was made skipper after Alun Wyn Jones dislocated his shoulder in the win over Japan at Murrayfield, an injury which ended the Welshman's tour.
Justin Tipuric will also not travel after picking up a shoulder injury in the warm-up game.
Coach Warren Gatland called up Adam Beard and Josh Navidi to fly to Johannesburg. It's believed Ireland and Leinster second row James Ryan picked up an injury in training this week and that put him out of consideration for a call up.
Limerick native Murray has spoken of his shock at being asked by Gatland to be captain.
“Warren asked me just before the cap ceremony and it was surreal. I still don't have my head around it, but it's something that is an unbelievable honour, it's something that I never thought would be possible.
“What kind of puts me at ease is that we've such a good leadership group that it means I can continue being myself. There’ll be a little bit more responsibility, but I don't think it should change anything around the camp. I think that's one of the most important things - that I remain myself, and I assume that's why Warren asked me to do it.”
Naturally, the announcement has drawn significant attention back home, and Murray knew it was a responsibility he had to take immediately before telling his loved ones the news.
“I didn't think about long. I said, ‘absolutely, it'll be it'll be a massive honour thank you very much for this opportunity’. So, no. Then you kind of think about how big it is and then obviously my phone has gone a bit crazy since it was announced.
"I tried to call my girlfriend Joanna, but her phone was on one percent as usual. Her phone was off, so my dad is in Edinburgh, he was out with his friends having a few drinks and so he was the first person. My mum's in Kerry and I rang her, she's down with a few friends who were watching today’s game and they're celebrating too, so it still hasn't sunk in to be honest.”
Murray started all three British and Irish Lions tests against New Zealand in 2017 and he feels he has the experience to lead a squad of 37 as they attempt to beat the world champions.
“I think you got to definitely understand how we're trying to play, what we're trying to do on the pitch, that's the most important thing. I think your messaging has to be well thought out, you know, I think, in my career I suppose when I do speak it's thought out. You know, it might not be that often, but it's definitely has meaning and there’s thought behind it, and a genuineness to it.
“When you’re a Lion, you realise who you're playing for, what you’re trying to achieve as a player and who you want to make proud. That's what I've learned from team talks in Lions changing rooms and Ireland changing rooms and Munster changing rooms. I've been lucky enough to experience a lot of leaders and they always bring it back to who you're trying to make proud and what you're actually here for. I think driving that message is important.”
Conor Murray and the Lions squad will face their first match in South Africa against the Emirates Lions next Saturday, and there will be live commentary of the game on OTB Sports.
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