Tuesday 6 December 2016

Fit-again Furlong can't wait to get stuck in

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

Tadgh Furlong is on his way back after a run of injuries. Photot: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Tadgh Furlong is on his way back after a run of injuries. Photot: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

There aren't many things that you can rely on in this world. They say that death and taxes are two bankers but most other things in life come with a degree of doubt. Another banker to add to the list is that Leinster Rugby prop Tadhg Furlong will always front up, will always answer the hard questions and will do so with as much of a smile as he can muster.

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Today is no different. There have been lows in his season, but while he is slow to dismiss them out of hand, he is a glass-half-full man. And even finds time to rattle off the chorus to 'Dancing at the Crossroads' as we chat… He is a proud Wexford man after all.

"I suppose I only made my debut at the end of 2013 for Leinster so to look at where I am now compared to then and the progress that I have made, I am very thankful for all of that. Of course there will be moments when you would rather things go better but what's the point is staying in that moment? It passes and the great thing about sport is that there is always another game to help you focus on."

Furlong had 26 appearances for Leinster last season with three tries into the mix as well and one of those in the Champions Cup. And it all ultimately led to a first Irish cap against Wales in the Aviva Stadium as part of the Rugby World Cup build-up. A second cap followed the week after against England.

Dreams

"I look back on it now and it's what every young chap dreams about growing up, isn't it? Representing your country and a home debut as well. Having the family and some mates in the stand is what it's all about."

There was then selection for the World Cup proper and a further cap against Romania. But flash forward to this season and the numbers are not adding up as they should. Yes, he was called into the Six Nations squad and yes he has ticked some personal goals like starting a first Champions Cup game, but whereas last season he was footloose and fancy-free, this season he has been anything but.

"Last season I suppose with Mike Ross and Marty Moore picking up injuries I came in and benefited whereas this season it hasn't been any major injury or one issue for me but it's been a list of niggles that stop you picking up a head of steam.

"Three times I have pulled my right quad. I've pulled my left quad once. Did a grade two on my ankle. It's tough to find form or to fully prep when you are only training from the Thursday because rehab plays a bigger role in your week. But ultimately you can only be judged by what you did over the 80 and thankfully I am feeling really good now again and I'm looking forward to the run-in."

He was involved in the first two games of the Six Nations against Wales and France but then the niggles cut across again. Back to the moments.

"Of course I would have liked the Six Nations to have gone better, not just for me personally but for the team. But the quad just came on me at the wrong time so you dust yourself down, head back to Leinster, do your rehab and you get it right again. Focus on the next game.

"Thankfully, as I said the body feels really good now and I can't wait to get stuck in this weekend. Would I have liked to have been involved against Scotland? Who wouldn't! But I just have to put the head down and put all my focus into Connacht."

While Connacht are coming into this on the back of a five-game unbeaten streak, Leinster lost away to Glasgow last Friday.

"Glasgow are the reigning champions so it was never going to be easy going over there. It was very soft underfoot as well in Scotstoun and I'm not sure how much that came across on TV. If it was Cheltenham you might say it was good to soft! So from a scrummaging point of view and for me as a tighthead prop it was difficult to get your feet under you.

"To be fair, by and large both teams went out to go at the scrum and I think both packs did well in the conditions, the scrums stayed up most of the time, but yeah it was difficult.

"But I don't think the result or the performance is a massive blow in the wider context. Our results recently have been really good. I think we picked up 18 points from 20 in the four games before that so it's not like this is a run of poor results. It's one game, away to the champions, that we still managed to pick up a losing bonus point from and kept our try-line intact. Going into the Connacht game training has been good, the mood has been good and having the Irish lads back in now the last few days has added to that."

A trip to top-of-the-table Connacht with a place in the play-offs and possibly a home play-off thrown into the mix as well. It's all very different to last season.

"I suppose last season we were looking to cling on to that top six really. Obviously we had the Champions Cup quarter- and semi-finals to occupy us as well but in the Pro12 this season is very different. We know it's a massive test for us this weekend. Going to the team at the top of the table, the best attack in the league and looking to see what we can get out of it. It would be nice with four games to go to be top of the league but it will be a long 80 minutes before we achieve that."

Heavily

You venture that the lack of knockout European rugby might weigh heavily but again there is no room for looking back on the negatives but there is room to take the positives. In Round 5 he made his first European start against Bath Rugby.

"Taking to the field with two other lads like Peter Dooley and James Tracy who I have played a lot of underage rugby with and also with the Leinster 'A's, to then be running out for a Champions Cup game against a team like Bath, it was brilliant and even though I had played plenty of times off the bench before then, everyone wants that start.

"As a team, I suppose the real learning from Europe is that you can't afford to have an off-season domestically. If you do, your European seeding suffers so that's what we have put in practice this season, staying in the moment and I think we have really focused in on consistency in the Guinness Pro12."

With five games to go, no better time for Furlong and Leinster to go after those moments.

Irish Independent

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