Conor Murray can be a major player for the British & Irish Lions against South Africa this summer, Neil Jenkins believes.
The Lions kicking coach and Welsh fly-half legend, a veteran of five tours as a player and coach, worked with the Munster and Ireland scrum-half during the 2013 and 2017 tours to Australia and New Zealand respectively.
Murray’s recent form during the Six Nations has put the 31-year-old in pole position to reclaim the Lions’ number nine jersey he owned in the drawn series with the All Blacks four years ago having emerged as the star scrum-half in victory over the Wallabies in his two Test appearances off the bench.
Having watched Murray already this week as the Lions began their training camp in Jersey, the Limerick star’s potential as a positive influence for the 2021 tourists is exciting Jenkins just as much ahead of his sixth tour as it did in those previous Test series.
“He’s a world-class rugby player as far as I’m concerned,” Jenkins said of Murray.
“He’s been doing a bit of goal-kicking with us as well, that’s something that’s come on in his game in recent years. He’s kicked a few, sadly, for Ireland against Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup and in 2018.
“He’s a massive threat whenever Wales play Ireland, we know how good he is. We’ve got to keep a close eye on him.
“He’s excellent in the squad, he was excellent on the last two Lions tours and he’s looking good already on this one.
I see him as a major player for the Lions. He has been and I’m sure he will be on this tour. He’s a fantastic player.
Head coach Warren Gatland has 26 Lions in camp this week with the remaining 11 players still on club duty in end-of-season play-offs in England and France.
All three scrum-halves selected are in camp with Murray training alongside first-time tourists Gareth Davies of Wales and Scotland’s Ali Price and though it may not apply to them Jenkins believes those Lions that are in Jersey this week ahead of the pre-Tour Test against Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday week are putting themselves ahead of their absent rivals in the pecking order for when the tour gets underway in Johannesburg on July 3.
“Yeah, they probably do have a slight advantage,” the assistant coach said. “Getting a good week’s prep into them without a game on Saturday, they have got to do stuff they don’t normally do in this down-week.
“It’s tough, it’s demanding of them in the way we train and how tough the sessions are.
“But it’s an opportunity to put their best foot forward, for the coaches to see them for the first time before the other guys get here next week and the week after.”
As a player, Jenkins won a Test series in South Africa in 1997 and has also been part of a series-winning coaching ticket in 2013 and for the 2017 draw. So the Welshman is perfectly placed to identify the core ingredients of a successful tour.
“What I like about what Gats does and maybe our opportunity in 97, was we were all given a chance early on. As a player that’s all you can ask for. You know you’ve got to turn up, you know you’ve got to work hard, you know you’ve got to get the respect of your peers.
“Most of the boys, well nearly all of them have got that anyway, they play against each other week in, week out, but it’s that opportunity that comes your way early on in the tour, in those first three games, I think that’s a massive part of it and as a player that’s all you can ask for.
“Sometimes maybe there’s been a little bit of, you know, a Saturday side and a midweek side but that’s certainly not going to be the case here. I know Gats is all about giving everyone an opportunity and there’ll be a good mix to the teams that play early on, you’ll get a chance and it’s up to you whether you take it or not.”