Saturday 24 March 2018

From swimming with sharks to pushing for glory

Tadhg Furlong will be up and running again
Tadhg Furlong will be up and running again
Leinster's Tadhg Furlong, Dave Kearney, Mike Ross and Luke McGrath during training at UCD in Belfield
Tadhg Furlong is determined to build on his breakthrough season

Marcus Ó Buachalla

By the end of Round 3 of the Guinness Pro12 this weekend the majority of Leinster's Ireland contingent who travelled to South Africa will be up and running once again.

A World Cup began their 2015/16 season and a tour to South Africa brought it to a close. It was a long season to say the least.

One of those Ireland players is Tadhg Furlong, and a week after his first game of the 2016/17 season the Wexford man reflects on a breakthrough season.

"It was great," he says. "To get selected in that World Cup squad and then you set new goals and you want to kick on. . . first cap against Wales, then a World Cup cap.


"You then focus all your energy on Leinster and try to get back up to that level. I was involved in the Six Nations which was great and then the tour to South Africa, my first senior tour. So it was a brilliant season in that regard."

Fifty-two caps and counting for club; 13 months after his first, he is eight and counting for country. Cap seven was a first start against South Africa in that second Test in Ellis Park. Another milestone.

"It was great to start a game. We had won for the first time ever in South Africa in the first Test so there was a real opportunity for us to create more history," he says.

"It was a superb atmosphere right through the series; to play the Springboks over there was a phenomenal experience.

"That being said it was frustrating to leave it behind us. We felt we had a platform but ultimately the chance to create some more history was gone."

What did he make of his first senior tour?

"It was brilliant. I had heard about how great a country it was so when you get selected, leaving the rugby aside you are excited to be visiting a place steeped in history.

"Some of the places we visited and the things that we did, you might never get the chance to do it again.

"Swimming with sharks or high-speed helicopter rides. We went on safari. Brilliant fun and a great bunch of lads. So yeah as a first tour it was a good one to experience.

"Pity we couldn't finish off the great work we started in the first test but we will learn from it and we can be better."

Between the highs of the first cap to his last involvement of the season - a 29-minute stint off the bench in Nelson Mandela Bay - there was club duty with Leinster.

He looks back on the club campaign with mixed emotion.

"We brought much better consistency to our Pro12 form and that resulted in finishing top of the table, getting that home play-off and of course a better seeding for the Champions Cup," he says.

"That was the aim so I think we can be very happy with how that went.

"But look, when you put yourself in a position to win silverware you have to take it. We didn't and that hurt lives with you. Of course you want to move on, and fair dues to Connacht, but we didn't perform that day in Edinburgh. You have to hope that the lessons will stand to us."

Indeed for many in the squad it was a first final at senior level with the club so you'd imagine the lessons were hard learned."

Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath, Peter Dooley, Ross Molony, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy and of course Furlong. Losing one to win one?

"I'm not sure about that," says Furlong. "You'd be just as happy to win one and leave it at that but last year for a lot of us we achieved milestones. Debuts for a lot of Academy lads. First European starts for a lot of us against Bath in the Champions Cup. And then playing in a first final.

"It was a big season for some of us younger lads and taking significant steps.

"The challenge this season is to repeat that consistency in the Pro12 but improve on Europe. Every point in the Pro12 is crucial regardless of what time of the year it is. The win in September is worth the same as the win in April so it's important we grab those chances when they come."

The Champions Cup campaign is a way off yet but you get the sense that while there is hurt at the way they lost to Connacht in the Pro12 final, there is anger at how they left Europe behind them last season without firing a shot.

"We all felt that we didn't do ourselves justice in Europe and we all want to be better," says Furlong. "We have a block of six Pro12 games before we shift sights to Europe so in time we will look at Castres, Montpellier and Northampton but there is certainly a strong desire to do better."

The next worry is Edinburgh in BT Murrayfield tonight. A return to the pitch that brought the curtain down on Leinster's season.

But while the Pro12 final was played in front of nearly 35,000 there may be only a tenth of that crowd in attendance today. Disappointing?

"Look I'll leave the numbers to someone else," says Furlong. "For us it's a brilliant stadium and pitch to play in. The facilities are second to none and it's a place you would look forward to.

"The warm-up is a bit surreal with a sort of echo in the stadium but by the time kick-off comes, you really are only focused on what happens on the pitch and that's the same in a capacity sold-out stadium as it is at a stadium with a few empty seats.


"We have enough to be worrying about with Edinburgh the team rather than what's going on in the stand anyway!"

Like Leinster, Edinburgh have started with a win and a loss but in last weekend's win against Scarlets they kept their tryline intact and showed enough attacking verve to cross the line twice themselves. They also have an international out-half in form.

"Duncan Weir will punish you if you give him chances so we have to be on top of our discipline and we have to make sure that we limit their chances," warns Furlong.

They've a strong scrum so it won't come easy but we have to now get back on track and close the gap on those teams above us."

Up and running again. Same same but different. What that 'different' brings for Furlong, for Leinster and for Ireland, we'll just have to wait and see.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport