With Alun Wyn Jones sustaining a tour-ending shoulder injury against Japan today, Ireland’s Conor Murray has been chosen to take over as captain of the 2021 British & Irish Lions.
The Limerick-born scrum half is set to become the thirteenth Irishman to captain the Lions in Test action, following in the footsteps of Tom Crean, Tommy Smyth, Sam Walker, Karl Mullen, Robin Thompson, Ronnie Dawson, Tom Kiernan, Willie John McBride, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony.
Giving his reaction, Murray said: “We’re very disappointed to lose Alun Wyn. He’s been brilliant for the first two weeks. I’ve known him from the past two tours and he’s been incredible. It’s a huge loss.
“Warren (Gatland) asked me just before the cap ceremony and it was surreal. I still don’t have my head around it, but it’s something that is an unbelievable honour.
“It’s something that I never thought would be possible. What kind of puts me at ease is that we’ve such a good leadership group that it means I can continue being myself.
“There’ll be a little bit more responsibility, but I don’t think it should change anything around the camp. I think that’s one of the most important things – that I remain myself, and I assume that’s why Warren asked me to do it.”
Asked about accepting the captaincy nod, he admitted: “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’ve been lucky enough to be on a couple of tours already, so it’s something that I’ve said to myself that I’m going to enjoy and take in every moment and really, really enjoy the experience.
“It’s something that I’m going to relish and enjoy rather than feeling daunted by it.
“I know a lot of the lads here already, it’s a group that you can feed off. When it was announced I got a big round of applause and the boys were congratulating me. It feels really close.”
A statement from the Lions tonight also confirmed that Wales duo Adam Beard and Josh Navidi has been called into the tour squad, replacing the injured Jones and Justin Tipuric.
The Lions’ 28-10 Vodafone 1888 Cup win over Japan at BT Murrayfield was marred by two tour-ending shoulder injuries, as Jones and Tipuric were both forced off during the first half.
Ahead of his squad’s departure for Johannesburg tomorrow, Lions head coach Gatland said: “We’re all incredibly disappointed for Alun Wyn and Justin.
“The timing of these injuries seem particularly cruel given we fly to South Africa tomorrow, but unfortunately they’re part of the game.
“Alun Wyn will obviously be a big loss, both on and off the field, but will be ably replaced by Conor.
“Conor is an outstanding rugby player and is held in the highest regard with both the players and coaches.
“As a three-time Lions tourist, he knows what will be required as captain and I am certain he will lead the squad with excellence. He will also be well supported by an experienced leadership group.
“We plan for Adam and Josh to join up with the touring party before we depart for South Africa tomorrow evening.”
The Exeter Chiefs quartet of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Stuart Hogg, Jonny Hill and Sam Simmonds will also link up with the 37-man touring party as planned in Edinburgh tomorrow.