Sunday 26 January 2020

Lancaster pep talk gave me drive to push for Lions - Furlong

Tadhg Furlong was all smiles yesterday after his inclusion in the Lions team. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Tadhg Furlong was all smiles yesterday after his inclusion in the Lions team. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The rise and rise of Tadhg Furlong continues. Campile, Co Wexford's first Lion may only be a full international less than two years, but of all of Ireland's contingent, he slept easiest this week. Perhaps only Conor Murray was more sure of his place.

Not that he'd admit it himself publicly, but the form tighthead in world rugby over the course of the season has a chance for immortality tomorrow, at the age of just 24.

He's played the All Blacks twice now and shown no fear at either turn.

In Christchurch two weeks ago, he faced down four of tomorrow's starting tight five and more than held his own. It was tit for tat as you'd expect between two sets of world-class forwards, but Furlong respects players and has little time for reputation.

His rise was encapsulated when Wyatt Crockett, he of 59 All Black caps, collapsed the scrum.

The disdainful look on Furlong's face said it all as he waved a dismissive arm at the 34-year-old as he roared at the fallen Crusader. Battle lines drawn.

"The scrum is going to be tough," Warren Gatland said yesterday. "Four of that tight five did well against the Crusaders and we've got better and better.

"Tadhg is getting better and better. He's still pretty green but he's got something about him: he's explosive, he's quick for a big man, surprisingly quick.

"He's a good ball-carrier and he had a nice bit of inside play with Johnny (Sexton) and then an offload.

"That's what we're encouraging players to do and he's the modern prop, for me.

"You've got to have more than just set-piece, scrum and lineout.

"You've got to be able to get around the pitch and defend, so I think in the next few years he's definitely going to be one of the world's best in that position.

"He's just getting better and better and I think he'll come away from this tour having established himself as being one of the top props in world rugby."

It's been a whirlwind journey for Furlong, who only made his first start for Ireland against South Africa last summer, but saw off Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira in a mark of what was to come.

Mike Ross was moved aside to make way for the Wexford native, who probably nailed his Lions spot with his performances against the All Blacks in November.

Amid the hubbub, the dream began to become a reality when he sat down with Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster.

"I came out of that South Africa tour with a lot of confidence," he reflected at the team base in Auckland yesterday.

"I thought I went reasonably well in my first Test start against a good scrum.

"In November, then, when you start to pile minutes on minutes, it gives you that bit of confidence that you can start pushing towards or aim for something.

"But I think the real moment of focus for me this year was when Stuart Lancaster came into Leinster.

"He has worked with a lot of players in different environments - and a lot of players who are here on tour… we had a one-on-one, where we sat down and he said 'From what I've seen, you can really push on and try to aim to be a Lion this year'.

"At first, I was 'Jeez man, what are you saying, like? I probably didn't see myself in that picture but he backed me and I suppose gave me a focus and goal to drive towards."

Lancaster worked closely with Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree during his time with the England coaching team and the current Harlequins supremo was impressed with the 24-year-old from afar. He's even more impressed now that he's seen him up close.

"With Tadhg, it's a lot more than just set-piece; his game-involvements - we have that much data like GPS data and you can really see who is working," said Rowntree.

"He's putting shifts in the set-piece and around the field.

"He's in a group… look at Dan Cole (against Chiefs), in terms of tightheads I thought he played exceptionally well last night.

"It's going to be difficult, but Tadhg is certainly learning a lot as a young player and I'm enjoying working with him."

After November, the All Blacks are fully aware of what Furlong can bring to the party.

His rise continues.

Irish Independent

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