Conor Murray has been touted as a potential Lions captain, and the 27 year old produced a masterful performance in Ireland’s battling 19-9 victory over France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
It was the boys in green’s biggest win over Les Bleus since 1975, and Murray was the best player on the pitch.
The Ireland scrum half received widespread adulation for his dominant performance. He performed a hugely effective pairing with the returning Johnny Sexton, who was also superb on the day.
Murray scored Ireland’s sole try against France, and dictated the pace of the game with his impressive trademark box-kicks. In fact, no scrum-half has scored more Test tries than Murray’s six since the start of 2016.
French newspaper L’Equipe described Murray as a “complete number nine” and lauded his “Rolls Royce” performance at the Aviva.
The Munster number nine’s sniping from the back of the ruck was crucial to Ireland’s success, and his delightful grubber into the French corner in the 62nd minute showcased his precise range of kicking.
It’s no surprise that Ireland have won 57% of the 37 games that Murray and Sexton have started together, and the pair seem to bring out the best in one another.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt heaped praise on Murray after Saturday’s win.
“Conor is really quiet. He does not impose his personality or doesn’t really say a lot in the group but he is incredibly respected within the group,” the head coach said.
“We want players actions to have such a volume that we don’t need to hear them speaking. And he turns up the volume for the big games without a doubt.
“He has got a skill set that enables us to play. He has a skill set that enables us to change the point of attack and to relieve pressure and he has got a courage to allow us to have an extra defender, sliding into the defensive line as required, and even when the ball is in the air, he is good in the air.
“It is a luxury having a scrum half who is 6 ft 2in. We wouldn’t rely on one particular talisman because you start to revolve too much around one person and that is too much pressure for the person.”
Former Ireland international Donncha O’Callaghan claims Murray is the best number nine in the world, and feels the scrum-half is a strong contender for Lions captain.
“100%, Conor is the best number 9 in world rugby,” he told the Hard Yards podcast.
“You don’t even have to think about it. He is a country mile ahead too…
“I think himself and Maro Itoje are the only two who you can say are definitely going to start for the lions. They’ve put in massive performances.
“I know everyone is talking about captains for the Lions, I think they are going to find it really difficult when you struggle to pick the rest of the team. There is no-one else that is so far ahead of the rest in terms of [jersey] competition.”
A win against Wales in Cardiff next time out will ensure a mouth-watering winner-takes-all showdown with England in the Aviva on March 18th, and Murray could be the key to winning both games in a competition of fine margins.