Sunday 26 March 2017

Tadhg Furlong: 'I'd have said you were cracked if you'd told me a year ago I'd be here'

Ireland's Tadhg Furlong in action during squad training
Ireland's Tadhg Furlong in action during squad training
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Deep in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, long after the crowd had left debating who would make Joe Schmidt's final cut, Ireland's newest cap was left to reflect on a bittersweet afternoon.

Tadhg Furlong has long been earmarked as a future international tighthead prop but he has had to bide his time to wait for his opportunity.

Furlong (22) replaced Nathan White shortly before the hour mark and contributed to Ireland's late surge, in which they almost snatched victory.

That Michael Bent was selected for Leinster instead of Ireland last weekend was perhaps telling, and with Marty Moore still struggling to shake off a foot injury, Furlong has suddenly soared up the pecking order.

Furlong's emergence was one of the few positives from an otherwise hugely disappointing last season for Leinster. The fact that he missed just two games proves his durability, although the demands of the next two months will not be like anything he has faced before.

Saturday was the 22-year old's first taste of Test rugby and although he admitted that it opened his eyes to the pace of play, he left the stadium hungry for more.

"The margins are that little bit smaller," Furlong acknowledged. "The intensity is definitely higher, it's very fast and you have to work hard.

"It was my first run-out since May. Initially you have that early feeling of nerves with stuff running through your mind and the added pressure of playing for your country for the first time."

Other than a quiet 'congratulations', Schmidt didn't say much to Furlong in the immediate aftermath of the game but the suggestion is that the conversation he had with him on Sunday was more detailed.

The New Ross native comes from farming stock and knows what hard work means.

He is also a remarkably composed individual and he isn't getting ahead of himself, regardless of whether he is named today in Schmidt's 31-man squad.

A thigh injury in the first week of pre-season lessened his opportunities to impress at Carton House but when he got the call to return to camp, it was one he gleefully accepted.

"I was named in the initial panel and then injury struck in the first week. I have been out for five weeks and am only really approaching full fitness at the start of last week," Furlong explained.

"The way things went with other lads' injuries, I got an unexpected call-up. I hadn't done a massive amount of rugby specific stuff or a massive amount of conditioning.

"It was tough to get back into it, especially coming in cold. I suppose I got my head around it during the course of the week. I am delighted to have that game under my belt now."

Worked

And his World Cup hopes?

"I'd have told you you were cracked if you'd told me I'd be in this situation (this time last year) but I worked hard for it," he smiled.

"I worked hard with Leinster all the way through the season and I ended up playing all but two games.

"If I am being realistic about it, I don't have a massive amount of form going into it (World Cup) - I have only played 25 minutes in the three games.

"I am only coming back from injury. I would be over the moon if I got into the squad but at the same time I would totally understand it if he (Schmidt) gave me those reasons for not bringing me either."

Four years ago, a late bolter in the shape of Conor Murray forced his way into the World Cup squad a mere nine days after making his Test debut.

This time Furlong has the chance to do the same just three days after his debut. It's a tall order but one that he feels he is ready for.

Irish Independent

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