Tuesday 24 October 2017

Furlong will be dialled in as more history beckons

Tadgh Furlong goes through his paces during training. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tadgh Furlong goes through his paces during training. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Life must seem wonderfully uncomplicated when you're a Furlong from Wexford.

When Tadhg won his first cap a year ago ahead of his enlightening World Cup cameos, he told us we would have been cracked had we predicted his graduation a year earlier.

And now, another year on, with an All Blacks scalp beneath his significant belt size and having shipped out the once immoveable and undroppable Mike Ross?

"It's mad how stuff just travels for you when you get your opportunities," says the third in a succession of seemingly long-term Irish international tight-head props who hail from good old-fashioned decent country farming stock.

But here he is. No longer the best-kept secret in rugby. The world knows him now. Chicago ordained him a star. And he made Ben Smith see stars.

In a momentous match full of momentous moments, his late first-half tackle firmly established the defiant tone of Ireland's incessant intensity.

Making fully 60 metres in just under nine seconds, Furlong simply smashed him into the next state. Never has sporting violence seemed so beautiful. Or so wonderfully uncomplicated.

"I don't really remember it massively," he recalls. "You are just trying to run and get in the kick-chase line. It just happened. He ran into my channel and I tackled him. It is not anything major really. I was just a few steps behind Jamie Heaslip really who was a few steps behind Josh van der Flier.

"I could have been nearer. I suppose when you are a prop...there were five scrums and none until the 25th minute, you can be surprised how fresh your legs feel going around the pitch. So stuff like that contributes to your ability to motor."

Self-effacingly, he admits to being a tubby lad running around the field for Horeswood's footballers as a 12-year-old but he never wanted to become pigeon-holed when he began playing his rugby. He had more to offer than just being an anchor in the scrum; he knows now he needs to carry more but there will be more to come.

And so much time for it to arrive. Tomorrow, after all, marks just his third start of ten caps.

Ross, the Cork farmer, was 31 when winning the first of his 62; John Hayes, who farmed out of Cappamore in Limerick, a relative whipper-snapper when the first of 105 appearances arrived in his 28th year.

They held the jersey virtually unchallenged for 16 years; the current incumbent issues no notions about the past or present. He just wants to play.

"When I was younger, I didn't realise anything really. I just went out playing rugby because I liked doing it. Once you come into the Academy you start getting serious.

"Because you come from a GAA background, I don't know, I hate getting boxed off as a stereotypical prop who is not allowed to do this and only allowed to do that.

"Looseheads are always the ones supposed to be more dynamic around the park but I never really got that.

"You come into Leinster and Collie MacEntee (his then Academy director) is saying your mobility is a point of difference and you need to bring the rest of the game up to a standard so that is what you work at."

If he seems remarkably unfazed - though certainly not underwhelmed - his family offer a similarly balanced approach.

He is a chip off the old block in more than one respect; his father James was also a tighthead with New Ross and then a coach; mother Margaret a school principal.

They weren't in Chicago and making contact might not have seemed as easy as one might think; James, to his eternal credit, can live his life without a mobile phone.

"He actually doesn't have one," he tells his disbelieving audience. "So he's no way to text.

"The mother was on, she gave me a WhatsApp, just congratulations, hoping the body was well and was everything okay because I had come off early."

Father and son did talk eventually on a landline; here, we pause to explain to younger members of the audience that this was once a form of communication, in a time when tightheads were told to push and no more.

"He'd just say fair play. He'd be a man of few words. What do I want a mobile phone for? That's what he'd say to me.

"So I gave him a call when we got back to the hotel and things settled down a bit, just to see where we are."

It seems like a nice place. The Furlongs and quite a gaggle of folk from south Wexford will definitely be there tomorrow.

"I popped in last weekend when I was off. The place went crazy."

Now more history, perhaps, beckons.

Irish Independent

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