Conor Murray knows exactly what will be revving up the Crusaders players he will face tomorrow. He has been in the Munster set-up long enough to remember the All Blacks visiting Thomond Park when he was an academy hopeful and the desire among his seniors to put in a massive performance against an international touring team.
Now 27, the Lions scrum-half will experience those feelings from the other side of the equation when he runs out at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch to face the Super Rugby kingpins in their own backyard.
“I was in the Munster Academy, training with the seniors so I was there for that week (of the 2008 All Blacks game), the build-up and the hype and all the excitement around it,” Murray recalled yesterday.
“You can relate to it with an international side coming to your club or your province. It revs you up even more and makes you want to put in a big performance for your club.
“A lot of lads who are playing tomorrow are from the area and want to do the area proud, so you can relate to it.
“You can see why players will pick up their game against a side like us and we’ve got to be ready for that.”
Murray has been given some further insight to the Crusaders’ mentality, specifically from his Munster half-back partner Tyler Bleyendaal, who is back in his hometown to see the game as he prepares for his wedding.
“I’ve been chatting to Tyler Bleyendaal about it and Canterbury as a region. For me, I’ve watched Super Rugby from an early age and I know all about the Crusaders and how good they are, how good they’re going to be in this game.
“I’m fully aware of the talent they possess, they’ve named a really strong side and we’re fully aware of how many internationals are amongst them. It’s going to be a massive challenge.
“We want to bounce back (from the defeat to the Blues) and continue to develop this squad and continue to develop our game plan.”
Also progressing is the partnership he will forge with England out-half Owen Farrell, with whom Murray first played during the successful, series-winning Lions tour to Australia in 2013.
Clearly more familiar with his Ireland Test team-mate Johnny Sexton, Murray’s first action of the 2017 tour will be alongside the favourite to start against the All Blacks in the No. 10 jersey.
“I suppose I’m more used to one player than the other right now, but I played with Owen in 2013. There’s not really differences (between Sexton and Farrell), I’m looking for similarities. Owen is a real leader like Johnny is and they’re a real driving force behind our game plan.
“I’ve been asked about Johnny in the lead-up to this tour and we understand each other well, and that’s the challenge now, to get to know Owen a little more than I did in 2013.
“It’s basically just spending time together and getting to know each other. In terms of styles, they’re quite similar and they do lead the team around the pitch well. They have strong kicking games.”
Both Murray and Farrell have developed their games in leaps and bounds since 2013 and the Irishman described his partner’s progress with Saracens and England, guiding his club to successive Champions Cup victories and his country from inside centre to back-to-back Six Nations Championships, as “spectacular”.
“Four years is a long time in sport and look at what Owen has done over that period of time. It’s spectacular, he’s really grown and matured as a player. I’ve definitely noticed (a change). He’s a more confident player, confident in his own ability, in terms of what he’s done and what he’s capable of as a player, so yea he’s definitely started off as more of a leader than maybe he was in 2013, and I suppose he and Johnny and Dan (Biggar) are just trying to put their best foot forward, and lead the team as well as they can.
“I’m sure Owen was quite vocal back in 2013, but he’s just grown that bit more as a player, and as a player I think people respect him. Not that people didn’t respect him back then, but he’s gone on to do really good things and people appreciate what he’s saying when he does speak.
“The same as Johnny. Those two guys have won European Cups, they’ve won Six Nations, they’re two top-class out-halves.”
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