When the Ireland scrum-half was appointed skipper at the weekend as successor to Alun Wyn Jones who had to pull out of the tour to South Africa after dislocating a shoulder in the win against Japan at Murrayfield, it was widely seen as bad news for his two rivals for the No 9 jersey, Scotland’s Ali Price and Gareth Davies of Wales. And given the captaincy is traditionally viewed as going to someone who is sure of a place in the Tests, the nomination of Murray was also seen as a sign that two of the national captains in Warren Gatland’s squad, Stuart Hogg of Scotland and Owen Farrell of England, could not be sure of a start against the Springboks.
But, speaking at the Lions’ first press conference since arriving in South Africa, Murray said there was competition for places throughout the squad, and was adamant that the captaincy did not mean the jersey was his. “It doesn’t mean it for a minute,” he said. “I think that’s completely separate. We’ve seen it before on Lions tours where captains haven’t started.
“Not for a second do I think that’s a given. If anything, you want to really make sure you’re on top of your game and you’re playing as good as you can possibly play.
“The battle for match-day places and match-day squads is really up and running,” he continued, referring to the squad as a whole. “You can see it already in people’s body language, and in the way they’re preparing in the gym before we go up to the pitch. People are taking it really seriously. Once we get on that pitch no-one holds back, and that’s what you like to see.”
Asked about his relationship with Price and Davies, Murray said they were collaborating very well. However, he believes it is only natural that the rivalry will heat up as the three-Test series gets nearer, not only in his own position but throughout the group.
“It’s been brilliant so far. I’ve played against Ali a good few times and I know Gareth from the last tour. There’s a huge respect there between the three of us.
“We’ve been really open with each other in terms of calls. Maybe calls we use with our clubs and our countries, kind of being open enough to share them. I think that’s really important.
“And staying behind doing a few extras with each other. I think we’re all gunning to play in the big games, but we’re all trying to make each other better and push each other along. I think that’s going to be good for the squad.
“It’s been great so far. I’m sure once we get closer to the big games it will heat up - but that’s what you want. You don’t want it too laid back around each other.”
Murray started in the 28-10 victory over the Japanese, and Price came off the bench in the second half. The team for Saturday’s game against the Johannesburg-based Lions will be announced on Thursday.