Monday 26 August 2019

Fear continues to drive Furlong despite impressive record against All Blacks

Tadhg Furlong, left, and Mako Vunipola stretch during a British and Irish Lions training session. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong, left, and Mako Vunipola stretch during a British and Irish Lions training session. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

He is two from four against the All Blacks, a record most Irish players can only dream of, but Tadhg Furlong says the aura still exists.

Most of his compatriots have never tasted victory against New Zealand, yet Campile's Lion is on the cusp of a series win at the end of his first full season as an international starter.

He has long been ear-marked for the role of starting tighthead prop, anchoring the scrum in every Saturday game to date and while he struggled at times in the opening Test loss to the world champions, his place was never in doubt.

His family and girlfriend have arrived in New Zealand to witness the last two weeks of this vintage season, a campaign Furlong won't want to end.

He says he'll reflect on everything he's achieved when he's on holidays later this month because there is no time to rest on his laurels with a series at stake.

"I'm incredibly lucky," he said.

"I'd refer back to when we were playing New Zealand in Chicago with Ireland and lads had lost to New Zealand five or six times and I'd never played against them.

"They'd talk about their experiences and what works and what doesn't work. I didn't know what to expect.

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"To beat New Zealand in my first game playing them, knowing so many people had gone before, played them five or six times and never beating them, legends of the game, you feel incredibly lucky in many ways, privileged, and to do it twice, even more so.

"You probably don't think about it until the season's over. There's one game left in the season and it's probably the biggest Test match in any of our squad's lives.

"You probably leave that to somewhere when you're laying around and not doing much to think about that."

Although he has secured two wins over the world champions in four attempts, he still has the height of admiration for them.

"I think you always fear the All Blacks in the way that if you don't get your stuff sorted, if you don't man up and meet them head on head, it's a tough day at the office," he said.

"If that doesn't happen they'll cut you to ribbons in the wider channels - if you give them that sort of space.

"They can score a try from anywhere. They're that dangerous, they've threats all over the park.

"If none of that works they're just so damn consistent, good at holding on to the ball. They're a tough team to beat. You have to keep attacking them, but it's easier said than done."

Part of the team that defeated the men in black at Soldier Field in Chicago, Furlong was also there to experience what a 'Black-lash' feels like in Dublin when Kieran Read's men revealed their darker side in a brutal Test match.

"They're probably in a similar position as we were the week just gone, where your pride is a little bit dented and you want to come out... it's a Test series, they're going to be absolutely bulling for it, as we were," Furlong said.

"You just have to be ready with your detail right, be physically and emotionally at that pitch that you can compete and then try and stand, go toe to toe.

"I don't think they'll massively change what they're doing. They'll try to physically come back at us which is the same in pretty much every Test match. Especially that match in Dublin, I remember coming off the pitch and being absolutely shattered. I was sore for days after it.

"It was one of the most brutal Test matches I've played in my short career so I think everyone will expect that and try and tee themselves up for it."

Furlong knows they will need to cut out the soft penalties if they are to have any chance on Saturday. Beauden Barrett missed three kickable penalties last week that left the Lions off the hook, but the Wexford man knows they can't afford to ride their luck again.

"It's a pretty obvious issue," he said. "It happened in the first Test as well; another day in maybe better weather and a few of their kicks go over and it would be a different score-line.

"It's something we spoke about before the game and it's disappointing we didn't put it into action out there. There was a 20-minute period in the second-half which was really, really frustrating.

"It seemed like we kept on giving away penalty after penalty and putting ourselves under pressure which is something that we have to rectify if we want to be competitive in the third Test."

Although they are enjoying some down-time in Queenstown in the early part of this week, Furlong and his fellow Test starters are fully aware of the opportunity that presents itself as they look to become the second Lions team to win a series on these shores.

"It would be a completely different sort of mood, not only within the group, but with the fans as well if we hadn't won on Saturday," he said.

News that Furlong's mentor Sean O'Brien is cleared to play is a big boost to the Lions.

"He is a big leader for us. If you have access to ref mics, you can always hear his high-pitched tone, shouting away and organising lads," the 24-year-old said. "He's very vocal, leads the team, talks at team meetings and he leads a lot by his example.

"I've been lucky to come up under his tutelage, in a way, in Leinster, because we've quite similar backgrounds in Ireland and onto this.

"I can't speak highly enough of him as a person or as a player and how important he is to this group."

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