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Furlong has right stuff

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HE even got a mention from Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at the post-Six Nations press conference.

Still 21, tight-head prop Tadhg Furlong is the best kept secret in Irish rugby, unless you are a member of Clontarf, a committed follower of British and Irish Cup rugby or one of the boys in the clubhouse at New Ross RFC ...

As Schmidt turns his attention towards the two Tests against Argentina in June, there is an outside chance that he will risk the wrath of Denis Leamy by listing Furlong for South America.

When asked about Ulster's Stuart Olding, Munster's JJ Hanrahan and Leinster's Furlong, Schmidt responded: "In our discussions, those three names have definitely come up.

"I don't think that the circle is as tight as people probably perceive it to be," he said.

If you are a back row forward or back three back in Ireland, the queue is long and getting longer. If you are a tight-head prop, there is a queue of two – Mike Ross and Martin Moore. No more. At the moment.

The son of a Wexford farmer has been compared to Carlow's Seán O'Brien, not as an explosive ball carrier, but as a man who doesn't know the meaning of taking a backward step.

He has been fast-tracked, playing six times for Leinster this season, two from the start, and was the standout man on duty away to Cardiff Blues in the PRO12 last month. Maybe he can see his future right in front of him when he looks at Martin Moore

"As hard as it is to believe, Marty was subbing for the B&I team last year.

"Now, look where he is! It is unbelievable in the space of time. He was always very good at what he was at. He didn't have to wait too long."

FREAK

Furlong could already be right up there were it not for a litany of "freak" injuries.

"This time last year I was laid up in St Vincent's Hospital with a lacerated kidney which kept me out for the bones of the year until midway through the pre-season.

"It was very frustrating, especially after I went through a shoulder operation a year and a half before that.

"This year, I've had my appendix out which is another sort of – 'what can you do?' – injury. I've been unlucky in that sense. My body hasn't really broken down as such.

"Since then, I haven't really missed a game all season for Clontarf in the AIL or for Leinster 'A'. I am enjoying a good run of games."

The former Ireland U20 cornerstone is the holder of an U14 Tony Forristal All-Ireland hurling winning medal at full-back with his county and doubled up as an inter-county Gaelic footballer at U15 and U16. Furlong has unusually gifted hand-eye co-ordination for such a big man, a skill set that many back row forwards could do with, and a hard-nosed attitude to the grind of scrummaging.

He is also a one-time self-confessed "overweight number eight" and a forward thinker.

"You get at a certain stage at U20 where you just want to get out into the big, bad world and see if you can push on and if you have it."

The injuries have stalled his conditioning. There is ground to be made up there. With Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek and international loose-heads Cian Healy and Jack McGrath at the same club, he is learning in the fast lane.

"I haven't done a whole lot against Cian, more Jack. I'd be happy enough," he said.

"Some days you get a walloping and you learn from your walloping. Some days you get the upper hand. It depends. It varies. I'm still learning and eager to do more."

Matt O'Connor is watching closely. Joe Schmidt too.


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