Alun Wyn Jones' last act as Lions captain left a real impression on Conor Murray
"I hit the odd ruck!"
Conor Murray took the lead from the Welsh boys in the British & Irish Lions squad, on Saturday, and gave Alun Wyn Jones his space.
The four-time Lion only lasted seven minutes of his fourth tour and dislocated his shoulder after an awkward landing, when he was cleared out of a ruck. In truth, it looked innocuous enough, but Jones not getting back to his feet immediately told you all you needed to know. This was bad.
He walked gingerly from the Murrayfield pitch and, by full-time, it was accepted that the tour captain - and only remaining player from the 2009 tour to South Africa - would be going no further.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland interrupted his emergency planning session, with his fellow coaches, to pick a new captain as he had media duties to attend to. Once they were done, there was a brief chat and the coaches backed Gatland's choice to take over - Conor Murray.
Sitting in his first press briefing as Lions captain, Murray recalled the moment Gatland approached him with the offer:
"Obviously the lads were delighted to get up and running, especially the debutants getting a run-out and a win was a massive positive. But there was sadness lingering because of the two boys.
"It was a strange atmosphere, obviously. Warren came up to me before we had our caps ceremony and asked me did I want to take over as tour captain; massive honour. I answered straightaway - ‘Yes, it would be brilliant.’
"I think I’ve answered quite quickly because I know quite a few lads in the group and the new set-up is really strong, we’re tight already. People are leading as players already themselves. Hopefully it’s something we can lead into smoothly and carry on from where Alun left us."
Murray said, off the top of his head, that Rory Best, Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony have all been inspirational captains to play under. He knows, though, that he has been selected because of a something Gatland has seen in him, and clearly likes. To that end, there will be no changing the wheel.
"You’re chosen because of what you do already and I don’t want to try and become someone different, trying to force things that aren’t that natural to you," he said. "I think it’s really important that I focus on that and hopefully lead by what I’m doing."
Asked if there had been much talk between himself and Jones, Murray admitted it had been brief, on Saturday, but there was a chat on the morning before the Lions flew out to South Africa.
"Obviously a lot was going on with Alun on Saturday evening but on Sunday morning I caught up with him for a couple of minutes... He said, ‘Just be yourself. You’ve been doing it all along over the past two tours. Just continue that.’ He gave me a pat on the shoulder and said he had full faith in me.
"Again, he was another guy who said he was at the end of the phone if anything crops up and his words are really important to me. He’s been brilliant for the first two weeks in setting the tone in training, just by his actions in training. He was beating everyone to the next drill and just being himself in the way he’s led for years and years. So, he’s another guy that I call on hopefully."
Jones is known for leading by example in training and, as a scrumhalf, Murray was asked how he could do likewise, leading to him remarking that he has been known to hit a ruck or two.
He also spoke of Jones' final act as 2021 tour captain, and how it left an impression on him.
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 26, 2021
Not long before it was announced to the rugby world that the Munster No.9 would be taking over from his as Lions captain, Jones performed his last act in the role - presenting Lions caps to the players that had made their debut in the win over Japan.
"Al was really good," said Murray. "He got up and presented the lads with their first caps and put on a really brave face on Saturday evening which was really admirable given he had got such pretty bad news.”
"It was a bit of a mix, do you know what I mean? You can see from his point of view that he mightn’t want to chat too much. No-one is trying to make him feel any better, it is what it is. It was a really unfortunate thing that happened. If it was me, you’d deal with it in your own head over time. I think lads were really respectful.
"But he was around the team room, he was chatting, he was enjoying the win and people getting off the mark with the Lions."
Considering that Jones was well aware he was heading back to Wales, that his tour was over and his replacement [Adam Beard] had already been notified of a call-up, he would have been forgiven if he had left the ceremony to the coaches, or another senior player.
That is not what a leader does, however.
Jones had taken to the field with those men, only hours earlier, and had vowed to back them to a hilt. Even though his tour was over, he still had a job to do and achievements to honour.
Murray, watching on, was already taking note.
LISTEN TO HOUSE OF RUGBY'S LIONS SERIES: EPISODE 2