Warren Gatland has called on match officials to better protect Conor Murray after the Lions scrum-half was hit late by the All Blacks after box-kicking.
Murray, 28, is no stranger to getting plenty of attention from opposing forwards but for the Munster star, the opening Test against New Zealand was reminiscent of the treatment dished out to him by Glasgow Warriors last January, when he spoke out about his standing leg being targeted by No.8 Josh Strauss.
At Eden Park on Saturday, Murray was hit late by flanker Jerome Kaino after a box kick and was upended, while there were also late pushes by Brodie Retallick in the fifth and 38th minutes, the latter one prompting referee Jaco Peyper to ask for a check from the TMO, Australia’s George Ayoub.
Both he and assistant referee Romain Poite could be heard on the ref’s mic telling Peyper “there was nothing in it” though that did not stop both Murray and Lions captain Peter O’Mahony having a lengthy discussion on the matter at the half-time whistle.
Gatland took up the cause yesterday when he said: “The concern for me was there were a couple of times where there’s a charge down where someone has dived at Conor’s legs.
“I thought that was a little bit dangerous. After he’s kicked, he’s been pushed to the ground a few times.
“It’s just a case of making sure he’s being looked after and protected and not harrassed after he’s box kicked. We will probably just get some clarity from the referee later in the week.
“Conor has had a bit of treatment like that previously. When you see someone dive at someone’s leg, you feel for the player.
“It’s a little bit concerning that they are not actually trying to charge the kick down because they are nowhere near it. They are actually diving blindly and hitting someone’s leg.
“For me, it’s just about protecting the players and making sure they are safe. I will just be asking politely that the officials look at that and make sure they protect him.”
Back in January, Murray’s frustration at his treatment by Glasgow players, lingered long enough for him to address the issue several days later during a press conference.
“I’m properly pissed off about that,” the scrum-half said. “I don’t see any benefit in charging down someone’s standing leg, I only see it as a danger or as a potential to get injured.”
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt backed his player’s concern at the time, saying: “I totally understand Conor being disappointed with how it happened.
“You can’t charge a ball down from the blindside, you have got to go through the standing leg and the potential for injury there is clearly evident.
“You only have to see how Conor just managed to lift his foot... otherwise if his foot is anchored he’s going to blow his knee out, potential ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), MCL (medial), the whole shebang.”
Privately, the Lions management feels the same way although they stopped short of suggesting it was a premeditated tactic on the part of the All Blacks. Nevertheless, there is a genuine concern for player safety.
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