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24th May 2021

Conor Murray took no pleasure from Ben Youngs’ tough Lions call

Patrick McCarry

Ben Youngs

“It means the most as I had to work the hardest for this one.”

Conor Murray had bigger issues on his mind, two months ago, as Ireland prepared to face Ben Youngs and England in their Six Nations closer.

Ireland had beaten Scotland and Italy to get some wind behind their sails after opening losses to Wales and France. Murray had only featured in the agonising defeat to the Welsh, however, and was an unused sub in that win over the Scots.

Getting on his third British & Irish Lions tour was not a completely alien thought, but trying to get back ahead of Jamison Gibson-Park and Craig Casey was slap-bang top of the agenda. It had been John Cooney in 2020, but the challengers kept coming.

Some words of assurance from Ireland coach Andy Farrell put him at ease, a few days out, and Murray started the home win over England that was such a blow-out that it bagged two of his teammates – Jack Conan and Bundee Aki – spots in the Lions squad.

Murray may have already been going, in Warren Gatland’s mind, anyway, but a solid display in the green No.9 jersey, as England imploded, did his chances no harm. Six weeks later, the news of Ben Youngs withdrawing from Lions selection consideration would have further helped.

On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 8:30 below], Murray spoke extremely well when asked about that big Ben Youngs decision, and what it means for the Lions.

Conor Murray and Ben Youngs tangle at Thomond Park, in European Cup action. (Credit: Getty Images)

Ben Youngs and Conor Murray would have diced with Mike Phillips for the No.9 jersey, on the 2013 Lions Tour, and the Leicester scrumhalf was initially selected for the 2017 tour to New Zealand.

Youngs opted to withdraw from the squad, however, after his sister-in-law [Tom Young’s wife, Tiffany] was diagnosed with cancer. His place in the squad was taken by Greig Laidlaw.

This time around, Youngs had been backed by the likes of Will Genia and Aaron Smith to make the tour to South Africa but, with his wife, Charlotte expecting the couple’s third child, he informed Warren Gatland that he did not want to be considered for selection.

“Obviously, four years ago, you couldn’t question him for the reason he didn’t go. Those family reasons, with Tom’s wife, who thankfully made an unbelievable recovery. Everyone completely agreed with that.

“Ben has been a professional for a long time. They’re expecting another child and he’s going to be away from his family for eight or nine weeks. The reasons are fine, absolutely.

“On the flip side of it, could it be his last tour or potential to tour with the Lions? He’s over 100 caps so would he grin and bare it, and head away? You don’t know what’s going on with everyone. There could be a whole host of different reasons. But to spend time with your family, and expecting a new child, is absolutely fair enough.

“Ben is a great fella. I toured with him in 2013. He was picked ahead of me, I was picked ahead of him, towards the end, and we got on really well. He’d encourage you all the way. A great guy to be on tour with, and I’m sure his name would have been in the mix.”

Even with Youngs stepping back, there were still players like Kieran Hardy, John Cooney, Tomos Williams and Danny Care that all would have been in the conversation.

As it transpired, Gareth Davies was the first of the three scrum-halves announced, in alphabetical order, by Jason Leonard. Murray did not have to wait long and he was next up, followed by Scotland’s Ali Price.

For the Munster scrumhalf, coming back from a tough stretch of form and staving off personal doubt, he is honoured to make the cut and ready to prove him, in Lions red, all over again.


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