Friday 20 January 2017

Tadhg Furlong sums up his incredible display against All Blacks in the most Irish way possible

Published 21/11/2016 | 02:30

Julian Savea can’t escape the clutches of Tadhg Furlong. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Julian Savea can’t escape the clutches of Tadhg Furlong. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It has been a rollercoaster 15 months for Tadhg Furlong, who after scarcely believing that he was included in Ireland's World Cup squad, has now become the country's first-choice tighthead.

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In what was once deemed a problem position, Furlong's emergence has eased the utter dependence on a 36-year-old Mike Ross, who for so long has been the fulcrum of Ireland's scrum.

From the outset, Joe Schmidt will have looked at this month as being a real test of where Furlong stands in his development and after an excellent performance in Chicago two weeks ago, the 24-year-old backed it up with an even better display on Saturday night.

Ross and the now-retired Nathan White were always going to be Schmidt's first choice at last year's World Cup but including Furlong was all part of the Kiwi's masterplan.

Over the two pulsating clashes against New Zealand, Ireland didn't lose a single one of their 15 scrums which is a testament to the pack and the work that Greg Feek is doing with them.

Furlong is by no means the finished article yet but he is beginning to add some subtle and other not-so-subtle intricacies to his game. His one-handed take at a lineout after 27 minutes on Saturday was more akin to that of a LeBron James catch than it was of an almost 19-stone prop.

But it wasn't just that. Furlong is showing more explosiveness around the pitch and nothing summed that up more than his barnstorming first-half run that left three giants in Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read on their backsides.

If that wasn't enough, the awareness and indeed pace that Furlong showed to make a crucial drift tackle on Julian 'The Bus' Savea highlighted the dynamism he has added to his game.

"I pretty much emptied the tank out there," an exhausted Furlong said afterwards.

"It felt pretty frantic. The ball was in play for long periods, or what felt like long periods and there were a few scrums (too). I was sucking diesel for a lot of it. A lot of it passes you by and it's only when you look back that you say, 'I remember that now.'"

While Schmidt was impressed with Furlong's latest shift, it would have been interesting to gauge the thoughts of his fellow Kiwi coach who was sat in the stand at the Aviva casting an eye on his potential Lions players and their opposition next summer. Warren Gatland does have options but if Furlong's rapid rate of progression continues in this vein, it is not out of the question that he will be in the frame for the Lions tour to New Zealand.

"I suppose the Lions is a long, long way away and whatever game plan they have, it's a long, long way away so to be honest I wouldn't even think about it," the Wexford native admitted.

While there is plenty of water still to flow under the bridge before next June, Furlong has now proved twice that he can handle the power of New Zealand's front-row.

Ireland not losing a single scrum against a pack that obliterated all that came before them in the Rugby Championship must surely count in their favour when Gatland gets down to it.

"I definitely wouldn't be afraid of them," Furlong insisted.

"I have a massive amount of respect for them. They were two tough, physical games. I thought we put it up to them at times today. It was disappointing not to get over the line in the end.

"They went on an 18-game unbeaten run beating some of the best teams in the world week in, week out. That's the standard we aspire to and look to get to."

Saturday's defeat proved that Ireland are still some way short of reaching New Zealand's incredible level of consistency but for Furlong, the sky's the limit as another huge period in his fledging career lies ahead.

Irish Independent

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