Sunday 20 August 2017

Furlong ready to roar into contention for Lions start

Tadhg Furlong puts his best foot forward during Leinster’s open squad training session at the RDS. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong puts his best foot forward during Leinster’s open squad training session at the RDS. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Rugby

Quiet as a mouse, he sits and waits, but the roar of a Lion will soon explode from his lungs.

Tadhg Furlong is sitting in the canteen surrounded by his Leinster team-mates.

John Spencer, manager of the Lions, is about to read out the most coveted invitation list in world rugby.

Alongside Furlong are a variety of similarly intrigued team-mates. Some of them are former Lions tourists who, for one reason or another, know they will not be going on this one.

Others are too young, others too old. Others are on tenterhooks, whether for the first, second or third time.

And so Furlong, so soon after his elevation to provincial prominence before international recognition inevitably followed, is not alone in being nervous. But his reasons for being particularly nervous are, perhaps, unique.

Path

For he expects this as much as he wants it. Not arrogantly; just naturally. This is his path.

"I'd be very disappointed if I didn't get it," the Wexford tighthead says plainly now.

And so he waits. The calm before the midday storm.

"I was a little bit nervous," he admits, speaking for the first time since last month's announcement, just a few steps away from the room where he first heard the news.

"I slept fine the previous night. And then you go in and you know the next 10 or 15 minutes are going to decide what will either become a massive thing in your career, or not."

As with any other team selection, the piano players have precedence over the shifters.

"Yeah, then the names start getting read out, a few backs were called out first, everyone was whooping and hollering, the usual. Then it got to the forwards."

This is where the agony should be curtailed; teams are normally read out in positional sequence, but this is a squad list not a team sheet. Rory Best; his Irish friends in Leinster cheer. Then Dan Cole. Then Toby Faletau.

The first 'F'. Another F-word is accelerating through Furlong's whirring senses.

"It's in alphabetical order, so it was in my mind 'if it's going to happen, it's going to be next'. There's another slow pause. And then they read out your name. Obviously you're delighted, all the lads clap you on the back."

And then it's back to the same relentless driving quest for improvement that brought him here in the first place. Back to the training ground. Amongst friends.

"I suppose it's easier being there with all the lads you know around the place, the claps on the back, it's a moment you'll probably never forget," he recalls.

He hadn't dared mention the topic beforehand; not because he was apprehensive, more because he felt deeply, he sensed firmly, that he had done enough

"I'd be very disappointed if I didn't get it, that sort of way. But you never know - if you did enough, if you performed enough, if you fit in the way the coaches want to play and all that."

Now that he will be on the plane, his next tussle will be a grizzled veteran of a winning series and a like-minded tyro in Kyle Sinckler to earn a starting berth.

"I am a big fan of Dan Cole. Sometimes when you are doing analysis, your mind drifts from what the loosehead is doing, you look at the tighthead and ask yourself what he is doing in certain situations.

"I find myself analysing him, wondering if I could do certain things like him or maybe certain things better or different to him.

"So you almost end up analysing the tighthead as well.

"I would be looking at his process in the scrum, from the set-up to the bind to engage, it is very seamless and efficient. Very rarely does he get a bad entry into a scrum.

"That is huge for a tighthead. I know that once I get into a scrum I am good.

"But the hardest thing to do in my opinion is to get down and get into a good position from the bind into the set. He does that really, really well.

"Kyle Sinckler is an animal around the pitch, he carries really, really hard. He has been scrummaging well with Harlequins, I saw him in action last weekend. He is young and dynamic, he brings a lot of energy."

So too does Furlong. And this Lion is ready to pounce.

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