JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Conor Murray says being named British and Irish Lions captain is no guarantee he will start in the tests against South Africa and believes competition will be fierce among the scrumhalves in the squad to meet the Springboks next month.
Murray was named skipper for the eight-game tour by coach Warren Gatland after an injury to Alun Wyn Jones against Japan on Saturday, the eve of the team’s departure for South Africa, with the Irishman given the nod despite having little captaincy experience.
"It’s been a crazy couple of days," Murray told reporters on Tuesday. "The mood in the camp was a bit sombre on Saturday. There was a sadness around the group because of the injuries to the two boys (Jones and Justin Tipuric).
"But when Warren asked if I wanted to take over as captain, I said ‘yes’ immediately. We are a tight group, other players are leading already and hopefully we can move on smoothly from where Alun left off."
Murray added that Jones offered advice when they had a brief discussion on Sunday morning.
"He said, ‘just be yourself, do what you have doing that for the last two tours’. His words are really important to me, he was brilliant for the first two weeks in Jersey in setting the tone in training."
But the scrumhalf says history has shown that Lions tour captains are not certainties to start in test matches and he is under no illusions that his on-field performance remains the most important thing with Welshman Gareth Davies and Scotland's Ali Price also in contention.
"It doesn’t mean that for a minute, we have seen before on Lions tours where captains haven’t started. The aim is to play in the tests, that is what it’s all about. You have to make sure you are top of the game," Murray said.
"Once we get close to the big games it (competition) will heat up, but that is what you want, we are all here trying to put on that jersey."
Murray says they are aware of the strict new lockdown measures in South Africa due to rising COVID-19 cases, but feels that in difficult times, the Lions can bring some distraction for a rugby-mad country whose team have not played a test in 20 months.
"We are very aware of what is going on outside with the lockdown," he said. "But we are here to put a smile on people’s faces. Even on the team bus, people have been beeping and waving at us. I think there is a good feeling about us being here."
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond)