Saturday 22 September 2018

The Tadhg Furlong interview: 'If you get ahead of yourself in the game, you're going to be shown up '

He may be a three-Test-starting Lion and the world's leading tighthead prop, but Tadhg Furlong is determined not to let his success go to his head as he chases long-overdue silverware and works on getting fit to face Wales next weekend

Tadhg Furlong enjoying some down time this week. Photo: INPHO
Tadhg Furlong enjoying some down time this week. Photo: INPHO
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Tadhg Furlong is explaining the awe he felt when he was a newcomer in the Leinster set-up and Shane Jennings was addressing the players when the thought occurs that there are young men coming into the Academy now who look at him in the same wide-eyed way.

The Campile native is still in search of his first senior trophy as a professional rugby player, but every other box has been ticked in his burgeoning career and when he speaks the audience listens.

Tadhg Furlong is ready to return for Ireland
Tadhg Furlong is ready to return for Ireland

A Test Lion with five battles against the All Blacks under his belt, he is the prototype modern forward with ball-handling skills to match his set-piece work. He is the rock of the formidable Leinster and Ireland scrums, while also a destructive force with and without the ball.

So, when he limped out off the Lansdowne Road pitch a week ago, there was a collective holding of breath.

The bulletins have been positive since and he is upbeat himself, but hamstrings can be tricky beasts and until he actually takes the field against Wales next weekend the doubts will exist over his participation.

And that is a concern for Ireland fans everywhere because in the space of 15 months the relatively unknown prop from Co Wexford has joined Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray on the shortlist of players the team can ill afford to lose.

He is the only Ireland player who can unequivocally claim to be the best player in his position in the world and not brook much of a debate, even though doing so would go against his very nature.

Last summer, the touring Lions fans sang his name loudly and it would have been easy for him to get carried away.

And yet as his career soars and his profile builds with it, Furlong's feet remain firmly rooted on the ground - just as he did when he first presented for interview as a youngster fresh out of the Leinster Academy.

He may be sitting on a couch in the penthouse suite of the swanky Dean Hotel in Dublin city centre, but there is no sense of airs or graces.

And that's part of the reason he is held in such high regard.

Analysis

"You keep yourself grounded, the group keeps you grounded," he says. "I think if you get ahead of yourself in the game, then you're going to be shown up.

"If you think you're better than you are, if you don't start putting in the prep, the analysis and the work and you don't keep trying to get better, then you are only fooling yourself.

"That's massively the ethos of the group and what we're about at Leinster and Ireland as a team and the individuals as well."

Part of his humility comes from his beginnings. It is no surprise that the avatar of New Ross RFC's Twitter page is their most famous son wearing the Lions shirt.

As a youngster, he was always their shining light but the trips to Leinster underage camps and path into the senior set-up never turned his head too far according to those who were involved in helping him up the ladder.

Furlong might have been the best player on every team he played with back home, but the ego never went with it.

"That's just the way I've always been," he explains. "Maybe it's the way I grew up, I feel massively privileged to be in the position I am where some of my friends or the people I grew up with would dream to be where I am now.

"You don't want to take your foot off the pedal; as an individual as well you want to be as good as you can be and I see areas of my game I want to get better at. Once you get that bit between your teeth you want to chase it as hard as you can.

"You can't let it affect your psyche, it doesn't affect how you prepare for a game or want to play the game.

"Sometimes there's external noise and that can be flattering and nice to hear, but at the end of the day it doesn't mean you're going to play better on a Saturday.

"That's up to you and how you prep, how you go about your business. I'd be a big believer in that, in getting my own ducks in a row and performing as best as I can at the weekend."

As his profile rises and experience grows, there may be more of an expectation on Furlong to speak up behind the scenes.

And yet, it is easy to forget that he is still just 25 and in the early stages of a burgeoning career.

He has gotten this far choosing his moments and is not about to change the way he goes about things just yet.

Senior

"I'd naturally be quiet in that sort of environment myself," he explains. "Obviously in scrum meetings, you'd have a bit more responsibility there and then you speak up.

"Maybe a bit of it stems from walking into a Leinster team when I first came through and there are very senior figures who you would have looked up to.

"Say, Shane Jennings - I was nearly in awe of the man and the way he spoke.

"There's nothing worse than a meeting when someone starts to ramble a small bit, Shane was very concise and to the point. I always liked what he was about.

"Eoin Reddan, the very same, Isaac Boss led off the pitch - in the dressing-room and that, in team meetings.

"They were people I looked up to coming into the system and you don't want to speak up before you have the right to.

"Not every player is like that, but maybe in my head it is a bit. I'd like to let my actions speak more than my words for the time being."

You point out that there are youngsters in both set-ups who regard him the same way now that he has achieved all that he has.

"Maybe... you don't put much thought into it, I suppose," he considers. "With young players coming through you want to put the arm around them and make them feel familiar and comfortable with the surroundings, how the thing works and what we're about. If I can do that, I definitely will."

One of those youngsters is Andrew Porter, the 21-year-old behemoth who replaced him after three minutes last weekend and kept the show on the road.

Ideally for Leinster and Ireland, the St Andrew's prodigy - who switched from loosehead to tighthead last season - will ease the load on Furlong in the seasons to come by allowing both teams to rotate him when necessary and replace him when he's tiring.

And the Wexford native has been impressed by his soon-to-be rival.

"It was kind of a weird one really, you're so prepped up and amped up and ready to go," he says of last week

"Then you're off after three minutes and it's kind of an anti-climax in a way. Poor old Porter played for 77 minutes.

"He did very well, to be fair to him. It's not an easy situation to be in but given all of the circumstances and the length of time he had to play, he did exceptionally well.

"His progression has been staggering; you see other players attempt it but he's taken to it like a duck to water.

"The thing Porter has going for him is that he is athletically sound, he has that size and weight to play tighthead. All he had to work on was a bit of technical nous.

"It's coming together and when you think of his training ground, back in Leinster you have good front-rows and good looseheads going against him.

"It's no different with Ireland, it's been really pleasing to see his progression and his work at the weekend was as impressive around the pitch as well as in the scrum."

As well as lightening his load, there is little doubt that Furlong would welcome some competition to help him drive his own standards a la Cian Healy and Jack McGrath on the other side of the scrum.

That's because he still sees plenty of room for improvement in his own game, which will come as good news for fans of Leinster and Ireland and bad news for his opponents.

"I've a fair idea of what I'm about as a player at the minute, you always want to tinker a small bit at scrum-time and make a nicer, prettier picture that you can replicate in games or at training," he says when asked where he feels he can get even better.

"The other bit is small tweaks looking at your game and where you can get better, where can you make a smarter decision and be more effective with your use of energy.

"'Should I poach in this breakdown or not?' 'Do I hold or fold (in defence)?' My tackle selection.

"You look at bits like getting off the line, work-rate, things like that where you're always trying to not dip below a bench-mark."

This all feeds into his overall goal of matching his status in the game with some silverware.

Remarkably, he has yet to taste success in a green or blue jersey and he is growing impatient to deliver.

"Being in competitive environments, competitive teams like Leinster and Ireland who have a pedigree of winning, of being medallists spurs you on massively," he admits.

"It's something I probably would have talked about for a while now, seeking to succeed and trying to get reward for the effort the group is putting in. Not just the individual, the group.

"That's something that massively spurs us on."

His first job is to get himself right for Wales. If he does, the prospect of silverware remains very real.

Ireland rugby star Tadhg Furlong, speaking at a Vodafone event, reminds fans that we are all part of the #TeamOfUs as Ireland face Wales in the upcoming Natwest Six Nations fixture on February 24 in the Aviva Stadium. Vodafone knows the team extends beyond the 15 players to include their support network of coaches, family, friends, backroom staff and of course the six million fans on the island of Ireland. We all belong to the #TeamOfUs Visit the Vodafone Ireland Facebook page for all the latest #TeamOfUs news

Irish Independent

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