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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Even the Kiwis laud Irish Lions pair

O'Brien and Murray wow press as Wyn Jones looks likely skipper

British and Irish Lions’ Seán O’Brien in action against the Crusaders during the tour match at the AMI Stadium, Christchurch on Saturday. Photo: PA Wire
British and Irish Lions’ Seán O’Brien in action against the Crusaders during the tour match at the AMI Stadium, Christchurch on Saturday. Photo: PA Wire

It is often best to see your own warriors through the eyes of the enemy.

The New Zealand Herald's bombast at the cheek of The British & Irish Lions to go there and play what amounts to 'old school' rugby has come under extreme criticism, quietened by their domination of The Crusaders.

A weekly column designed to increase the bar stool banter seeks to pick out the best New Zealand fifteen on every weekend of Super Rugby.

Last week, there was just one match between The Hurricanes and The Chiefs - it was a cracker, of course - and the Lions had two hit outs against The Blues and The Crusaders, thus prompting a new twist including the tourists.

The columnist Nigel Yelden went for five Lions, two of them Irish, to go with Alun Wyn Jones, Owen Farrell and George North.

A supporter sneaks a kiss on Conor Murray of the British & Irish Lions following the match between Crusaders and the British & Irish Lions at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo: Sportsfile
A supporter sneaks a kiss on Conor Murray of the British & Irish Lions following the match between Crusaders and the British & Irish Lions at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo: Sportsfile

Now, it must be noted how Yelden preposterously voted Joe Moody in for "owning" Tadhg Furlong, even though the only scrum in which Crusaders showed dominance was penalised for Moody driving in on the angle.

In addition, Leinster-bound left wing James Lowe was a sight to behold for his skills, speed and cheeky kicking game for the Chiefs.

Nod

Anyway, you couldn't but nod the head when reading his positive observations on Seán O'Brien and Conor Murray.

"On Saturday night, Seán O'Brien gave Warren Gatland a massive selection quandary," he wrote.

"As he invariably does, the magnificently nicknamed 'Tullow Tank' ploughed his way through a rugged contest, never stopping from first whistle to last.

"Having had one look at each of the Lions starting openside choices, O'Brien's been the best, which creates a dilemma when one of the other options is your tour captain."

In fairness, the openness of Sam Warburton in relation to his ankle injury and The Lions selection is a real eye-opener into why he has been a two-time Lions captain.

"I've received this role as tour captain and I know there's every chance that I might not even get involved in that first Test because there's every other player," he said.

"I see it as I'm tour captain, and if I've made the Test then that would be a bonus for me, but I've said there's three Tests to get selected for so it's not the be-all and end-all with the first one."

This is backed up by the honesty of Warburton to voluntarily hand over the Welsh captaincy this season when struggling for form.

For, no matter the title, Paul O'Connell was the vocal leader of the 2013 Lions and his old sparring partner Jones has taken on that role in New Zealand, leaving the second row looking like the obvious choice to be next in line for the captaincy.

There was also widespread acknowledgement of the excellence of scrum-half Conor Murray.

The Irishman, nominated by Graham Henry as the best in the world, was the best on show against The Crusaders.

Admittedly, Owen Farrell was immaculate on a lot of what he did in Christchurch.

Known as a fierce competitor, Farrell is not an infallible defender, making four tackles, but missing three.

The most glaring required Seán O'Brien to test out his hamstring to corner Richie Mo'unga.

However, the primary asset in The Lions arsenal was Murray for how his kicking immediately turned defence into pressure on The Crusaders.

"Murray's kicking game was absolutely exquisite," wrote Yelden.

"It wasn't just the pinpoint accuracy and the weighting of the kicks.

"He executes them so rapidly," he added.

"I'd love that sport science dude on ESPN to break down how long it takes from the time Murray puts his hands on the ball to the moment it leaves his foot.

"His passing, option taking and defensive work was top drawer as well - Back of the Week."

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