Conor Murray said he had been taken aback to be named as the new captain of the British & Irish Lions after Alun Wyn Jones was ruled out of the tour of South Africa due to a dislocated shoulder.
Ireland scrum-half Murray was thrust into the position just a day before the squad’s departure following a 28-10 warm-up win over Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday where Jones had to leave the field injured just eight minutes into the game.
The leadership experience of Wales captain Jones, the world’s most capped international and a veteran of three previous tours, was seen as an asset ahead of an eight-game schedule in South Africa culminating with three Tests against the world champion Springboks.
But although Murray has twice been a Lions tourist and had long been expected to start the Test series in the tactically important role of scrum-half, few had tipped him as a possible skipper given he has not captained either Ireland or even his provincial side Munster.
Nevertheless, Lions coach Warren Gatland has overlooked the claims of England captain Owen Farrell, team-mate Maro Itoje and Wales hooker Ken Owens, who took charge at Murrayfield after Jones’ injury, to appoint the 32-year-old Murray instead.
Asked if he was surprised to be installed into the prestigious post, Murray, whose 94 international caps include five Tests for the Lions, replied: “A little bit to be honest.
“I didn’t even think about it. I knew that Al was out and then you look around the squad and there are so many contenders.
“Warren asked me just before the cap ceremony and it was surreal. I still don’t have my head around it, but it’s an unbelievable honour. It’s something that I never thought would be possible.”
Murray, in a statement issued by the Lions on Sunday, added: “I didn’t think about it long. I said, ‘absolutely, it’ll be a massive honour. Thank you very much for this opportunity’.
“Then you kind of think about how big it is and then obviously my phone has gone a bit crazy since it was announced.
“I tried to call my girlfriend Joanna, but her phone was on one percent as usual. Her phone was off and my dad is in Edinburgh, he was out with his friends having a few drinks, and so he was the first person I spoke to.
“My mum’s in Kerry and I rang her. She’s down with a few friends who were watching the Japan game and they’re celebrating too, so it still hasn’t sunk in to be honest.”
The British & Irish Lions’ first game in South Africa is against the Johannesburg-based Lions franchise at Ellis Park on July 3, with the first Test in Cape Town on July 24.
© Agence France-Presse