Graham Henry and Justin Marshall prise Conor Murray’s role in the Lions progression.
Munster’s Conor Murray was broadly seen as one the biggest factors in the Lions victory over the previously unbeaten Crusaders on Saturday.
The Limerick man controlled the game from the base and his box kicking kept the Crusaders pinned deep in their own territory.
Murray was key to Gatland’s gameplan on Saturday but if the Lions are to have any hope of toppling the All-Blacks then they will have to refine their attacking threat.
The scrum half’s performance have not gone unnoticed by the Kiwis either. Speaking on Radio Live New Zealand following the game, Graham Henry hailed Murray as the best scrum-half in the world.
“I thought that the playmakers… Conor Murray was outstanding.
“He is a very composed player, knows the game and never gets rattled. He is probably the best nine in the world. Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton came on and they ran the game well.
“Alun Wynn Jones, I thought, had a big game as captain. He led well and galvanised the group.”
Henry holds the unique position of being the only man to coach both the All-Blacks and the Lions. He coached the 2001 Lions tour and ran the Australians close in the test series losing 2-1. Following on from that, the 70-year-old led the All Blacks to World Cup victory in 2011 on home soil.
As an attacking force, the Lions have been somewhat blunt in their three games to date and the Kiwi media have been scathing in their criticism.
They have, however created opportunities which is encouraging for Gatland as the prospect of the first test looms large in 13 days time.
Henry was quick to reference the lack of game time as a factor in the Lions’ attacking failings.
“These guys have never played together before. You have to give them a chance. They’ve got another two or three games before the Test so hopefully they can get some combinations working.
“The big thing was they dominated possession and their defence was outstanding.
“I thought there were two areas where there was concern. Obviously the attack. They need to keep working at that. The Crusaders scrum which is obviously the tight-five for the All Blacks gave them a bit of a touch-up at scrum time.”
Gatland has shown his frustrations at some of the claims that his teams play to a limited gameplan. Henry however, was quick to defend his fellow New Zealander.
“The Europeans play a different game than we do down here. They have to because they play in different conditions. They’ve been brought up differently in rugby so have to play to their strengths.
“Some New Zealand people think they need to play like the All Blacks and it needs to be a spectacle. What they need to do is play how they normally play and they can win playing their game.
“That’s the beauty of rugby, that not all teams play the same. That’s why I find it so fascinating. Different styles can win rugby games.
“You saw the style of the Lions against the Crusaders, they took the points that were on offer, almost. I think they kicked one to the corner.
“The Crusaders had four kickable penalties and they went to the corner on three. The old business of taking the points when they’re there has changed recently in Super Rugby. Is that the case in international rugby? It’s not.
“I find it fascinating and I hope they improve and we have a cracker of a Test series.”
While Henry does make some valid points, it is hard to imagine Steve Hansen or the New Zealand players being overly concerned about what the Lions have done so far.
There are three days before the first test, three games for the Lions to show genuine attacking prowess. Either they haven’t clicked to date or Gatland is playing a supremely cool hand of poker.
Murray’s performance also gained glowing praise from Crusaders and All Blacks legend Justin Marshall, himself a former No.9 of considerable note. On commentary duty for the game, Marshall declared:
“Class. All class tonight. Everything Murray has done has been exceptional.”
Either way, a fit and in form Conor Murray will have a huge role to play over the coming weeks.