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Sunday 23 July 2017

Murray spins away from Webb

Irish scrum-half takes talk of the Lions in his stride

Conor Murray in action during Ireland squad training at Carton House in Maynooth yesterday. Pics: Sportsfile
Conor Murray in action during Ireland squad training at Carton House in Maynooth yesterday. Pics: Sportsfile

It would take an earthquake to shake Conor Murray. The Ireland scrum-half will go head-to-head with Rhys Webb in what could be interpreted as a final interview for the British & Irish Lions Test team on Friday night.

"It doesn't affect me at all. I'm aware of it," he said about the duel.

"Rhys is a great player and he's playing really well at the minute.

"He was really good against Scotland, but it doesn't affect what I want to do for my team.

"I'm just focused on playing for Ireland and doing as good a job as I can.

Rhys Webb scoring against Scotland for Wales. Photo: PA/Wire
Rhys Webb scoring against Scotland for Wales. Photo: PA/Wire

"That kind of talk is for other people."

The one-on-one competition is diluted by the comparison between two polar opposite players.

Warren Gatland's decision probably won't even come down to which is better, but which better suits the game plan.

There has even been talk of Murray as a late-into-the-argument contender for the Lions captaincy.

"I don't have a hell of a lot of experience as captain, so I can't really answer that question," he responded about the possibility.

Unflustered

The attention on Murray won't have been lost on Webb, a razor-sharp competitor, unflustered by big names or big games.

Munster's Murray has rocketed up the charts of the world's finest scrum-halves in the same way as another Welshman Mike Phillips did years ago.

He underplayed the significance of Webb's comparative influence on whether Wales can prevent Ireland from moving on to a Six Nations showdown with England.

"It doesn't affect me. You rarely come across them in the game, you rarely have physical confrontation with them in the game," he said.

"Yes, they're right beside you at scrum time, but he's doing his thing and I'm looking after my corner."

In regard to Murray's corner, full-back Rob Kearney took a full part in training from his adductor injury in his groin at Carton house yesterday.

However, Jared Payne will have to prove his fitness from bruising by Wednesday.

The big stage can cause grown men to shrink or grow, depending on their coping measures.

This is why coach Joe Schmidt places such a significant emphasis on experience. There is apprehension about Ireland's capacity to handle the emotion and passion surrounding the Principality Stadium under the Friday night lights.

"We had a few games there with the roof closed and a couple of late kick-offs," said Murray.

"It's very exciting, it's one of my favourite grounds to go to as the atmosphere is going to be incredible."

Those Celtic cousins will do all they can to ruin Ireland's goal to have England to Dublin with the championship on the line.

Wales will be focused on making up for their failure against England at home and Scotland away.

"We'd be foolish to think they're not going to be hurting and there's not going to be a backlash from the Welsh team," warned Murray.

"They're back at home and they don't want to lose there again. It's going to be a massive, massive challenge for us heading over there particularly with them hurting that much.

"They're going to be fired up for this game big time and we've got to be ready for it and match it."

There is a general opinion out there that a closed roof can only benefit Wales from the extra noise that would be generated.

"I don't mind, if the weather is going to be poor and rain you'd prefer it to be closed.

"We've had it open on good, dry days and it has been really enjoyable.

"We've had it closed and the atmosphere is incredible.

"We're used to both ways and whatever way we decide on or agree on we'll be ready for that.

"I don't think it makes a massive difference to the way you play the game."

There is a reason why the best players want to play on the biggest stages.

It is where they thrive.

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