Conor Murray: ‘I’m really proud of myself to have made it to this stage’
Conor Murray: ‘I’m really proud of myself to have made it to this stage’

Conor Murray: ‘I’m really proud of myself to have made it to this stage’

BRYN MEREDITH WAS the first. Next came Dickie Jeeps, then Willie John McBride, the first Irishman to do it.

In all, there have been only 33 players who have journeyed on three or more Lions tours since that maiden voyage to New Zealand and Australia in 1888. As of next Monday, that number will be up to 34 when Conor Murray, Lion number 790, boards the plane to travel to South Africa.

“It is something I am proud of,” Murray said earlier today from the squad’s training base in Jersey. “It was a goal (of mine) after I made it onto the first two tours. So, when your name is read out (to be part of the 2021 tour), it is an incredible feeling. Your family are delighted; you are delighted.

“Having said all that, for me, it is what you do in the next six, seven weeks that really counts. The main thing is to have success, because if we make this a successful trip, with a win, it will be all the more special.”

Already, though, this does feel special for Murray – because, at 32, he has been written off, facing calls to be dropped for Ireland, forced to bounce back from a dark place when injury hit in 2018. And yet he has recovered, not just in terms of his fitness, but also his form. At times, he admitted, doubts crept in.

“As a professional rugby player you go through those thoughts weekly depending on how you play, well or not so well, or whether you are injured,” he said. “It is a battle week to week as a professional athlete but you have got to keep your main goal in sight, stay positive and stay true to yourself.

“Whatever about the two previous tours, this is the most satisfying for me by a long, long way. With the challenges with injury and playing-wise and things like that it is something I am really proud to have come through and made it to this stage. I was here four years ago and I want to experience something similar so that has boosted the motivation even more again.

“You work so hard to get the call to get on this tour but once you get here what makes this special is how you perform on the pitch. Obviously the relationships and the experiences we have off the pitch are going to be really important but ultimately it is about what you do on the pitch and whether you are successful or not.”

Murray with Warren Gatland in Jersey. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If the Lions are to have success then Murray’s partnership with Dan Biggar will be key to everything. Saturday against Japan is when they will audition for the first time since 2017.

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“I know Dan from the last tour and any time I play against Dan he is a gent, full of chat, and it’s been great. He has been the only ten here for the majority of our time in Jersey so he has had a lot on his shoulders and he has been really impressive.

“I saw an article after the last tour where he said with Jonny (Sexton) and Owen (Farrell) there he reigned himself to playing a few games but maybe not pushing too much in the Test side and you can see there is a difference in him this time. He has had a very successful few years with Wales and he has matured even more as a player. You can see it in him and as a person I get on really well with Dan. He is a top fella off the pitch and a pleasure to be around.”