Friday 20 July 2018

'Beast': Tadhg Furlong is best tighthead prop up north

The fearsome Tendai Mtawarira is aptly nicknamed ‘The Beast’. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
The fearsome Tendai Mtawarira is aptly nicknamed ‘The Beast’. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Such has been the rate with which the Springboks have been complimenting Ireland this week, it's difficult not to think that they are doing their best to lull Joe Schmidt's side into a false sense of security.

Tensions between the two nations may be rising as the fight to host the 2023 World Cup goes on but at their south Dublin base, the relaxed mood in and around the Boks camp was reflected in their gushing praise for Saturday's hosts.

On Monday, head coach Allister Coetzee branded Ireland as the "All Blacks of Europe" and yesterday it was the turn of the fearsome Tendai Mtawarira, aptly nicknamed 'The Beast', and scrum coach Matt Proudfoot to turn their attention to Tadhg Furlong.

So often when the All Blacks arrive in town, ask them to name some Ireland players and they struggle beyond Seán O'Brien.

Events in Chicago this time last year might well have changed that but the visitors have certainly arrived with their homework done and with a point to prove.

On their last visit to Lansdowne Road in 2014, the Boks left with their tails between their legs and although they exacted revenge by winning last year's summer tour 2-1, Mtawarira insists that his pack are coming to "dominate" Ireland.

reputation The 32-year-old, who will win his 96th cap on Saturday, has already come up against Furlong when the Wexford native made his first international start in the second Test in Johannesburg but it was his performances on the Lions tour during the summer that has really enhanced his reputation on the world stage.

"Going up against Furlong, I watched him in Lions series. He did very well. I have got huge respect for him," Mtawarira said.

"He's a great tighthead. He has obviously made his mark as the best tighthead up north. I am looking forward to the challenge on Saturday.

"First and foremost, he is solid at set-piece, He also gets around the park, gets through some work. In that respect, he is definitely the best."

Proudfoot, who won four caps for Scotland, and played for Edinburgh and Glasgow, has been tasked with devising a plan to stop the Irish pack, which has increasingly been a weapon under Greg Feek's tutelage.

But South Africa too look to be edging back closer to their powerful best at the set-piece. 'The Beast' is under pressure for his place from Steven Kitshoff who is very much seen as the future loosehead, while alongside them, their outstanding hooker Malcolm Marx has the potential to become one of the best players in the world.

Proudfoot described Feek as "fantastic at scrum time" but like Mtawarira, it was Furlong who was really being singled out.

"The scrum is like the swim in a triathlon," he maintained.

"If you come out of the swim tenth, you are not going to win a triathlon. You might not win games with the scrum or lineout but you will definitely lose them if you have a poor scrum. We know they are an intelligent pack. We respect that.

"Furlong is exceptional - great body position, very square. He's well coached, really, really well coached. So he's going to be a challenge for us.

"I think the fact that he has got (Rory) Best next to him, an experienced hooker. The front-row works as a unit and on your ball, the relationship between the hooker and the tighthead is crucial. I think that's where they benefit from it.

"If you look at our perspective, the longer time Beast and Malcolm (Marx) or Malcolm and Coenie (Oosthuizen). The better that combination works, the more experience you develop as front-row.

"It's not like cricket. You've got to be in the middle to get better. You've got to be at the coal face where you experience challenges every week and your innate personality solves that problem.

"You can't solve it on a machine. You can't do that. A machine is about timing and synergy. When it's there and it's man-on-man, that's when you get to see how good a player is. That's where Furlong has really impressed me."

Memories of the 29-15 defeat three years ago still linger and with the Boks under increasing pressure, they are intent on making a big statement come Saturday evening.

"Obviously I still remember 2014, not too happy with our performance but that's in the past now," Mtawarira added.

"It's a new team, a new era. I think the lessons I can take from that is that obviously the conditions are different here.

"But I think with the team we have now, there is a great balance of experience and enthusiasm. The guys will be really geared up on Saturday to show what we can do."

Irish Independent

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