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Wednesday 23 August 2017

Murray is 'best 9 in the world'

Highlanders v Lions Tomorrow, Live SS1 (8.35am)

Conor Murray of the British & Irish Lions in action against Jed Brown of Crusaders. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray of the British & Irish Lions in action against Jed Brown of Crusaders. Photo: Sportsfile

Legendary coach Graham Henry is convinced Conor Murray is the best in the global business.

The Irish scrum-half was immaculate, save for one or two shoddy passes, in The Lions 12-3 defeat of The Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.

"He's a very composed player. He knows the game and he never gets rattled.

"He's probably the best number nine in the world," claimed Henry.

While many column inches have been spent arguing for and against the inclusion of Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell, Murray nailed down his shirt in emphatic fashion.

Henry also cautioned against the almost unanimous opinion in New Zealand that the test series will be a whitewash.

"These guys have never played together. You've got to give them a chance."

Henry's view of the global game is informed from his various experiences as the coach to Wales, Lions and the All Blacks.

Different

"I understand the New Zealand public have been watching the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs play some amazing footie, but it's a different game, isn't it?" said Henry.

"The Europeans play a different game to what we play here, they have to.

Tadhg Furlong of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Jordan Taufua of Crusaders
Tadhg Furlong of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Jordan Taufua of Crusaders

"They play in different positions and they've been brought up differently in rugby. They play to their strengths.

"Some New Zealand people think they have to play like the All Blacks - it needs to be spectacle.

"But what they need to do is play the way they normally play and win playing their game. That's the beauty of rugby, that not all teams play the same.

"That's what I find fascinating, the contrast in styles."

The dye has been mostly cast as Warren Gatland's selection for The Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin tomorrow morning reveals more about who isn't in than who is in.

It would seem certain Murray, Sexton and Tadhg Furlong are nailed on to be involved in the first test, while Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony are also on course.

At least, this is the assumption given Gatland has already pointed to next Saturday's tangle with the Maori All Blacks as the game in which the test 23 will have their first hit out.

In retrospect, The Crusaders, billed as the fourth test, marked the first glimpse of Gatland's impression of the pecking order for the All Blacks on June 24th.

There are five Irishmen starting against The Highlanders as Rory Best, Iain Henderson, CJ Stander, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne look like they will be outside the loop for the first test match.

The greatest interest will centre around the form of captain Sam Warburton given his lack of form and fitness, albeit for just one match.

The spotlight is made brighter by the super-charged shift put in by O'Brien on Saturday, coming in cold from not having played since April 1st.

Gatland is a creature of habit and tends to go with those, who have previously won his trust.

That is why The Crusaders match was closed out with 13 men, who were there in 2013.

Hooker Best needs a huge game, primarily out of touch, to crack the code to the 23.

CJ Stander's huge engine keeps him in the argument, while Payne can make his move with a big performance from full-back.

At present, Ben Te'o holds an advantage over Henshaw for his line breaks and offloads.

However, there were definite signs of the England international's limitations as the game wore on in Christchurch.

Full-back Stuart Hogg and centre Jonathan Davies are both working their way back from failing Head Injury Assessments.

Flanker Ross Moriarty is unfortunately still dealing with a back injury.

Highlanders: R Buckman; W Naholo, M Fekitoa, T Walden, T Li; L Sopoaga, K Hammington; D Lienert-Brown, L Coltman, S Tokolahi, A Ainley, J Hemopo, G Evans, D Hunt, L Whitelock (capt).

Lions: J Payne; J Nowell, J Joseph, R Henshaw, T Seymour; D Biggar, R Webb; J Marler, R Best, K Sinckler, C Lawes, I Henderson, J Haskell, S Warburton (capt), CJ Stander.

Replacements: K Owens, J McGrath, D Cole, AW Jones, J Tipuric; G Laidlaw, O Farrrell, E Daly. Verdict: Lions.

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