Sunday 19 January 2020

Tadhg Furlong reveals Stuart Lancaster pushed him to win Lions spot

Stuart Lancaster arrived at Leinster, sat down with Tadhg Furlong and told the fast-improving Ireland tighthead to get himself on the British and Irish Lions tour.

Former England boss Lancaster pitched up at Leinster in September last year, and immediately challenged Furlong to drive his career to the next level.

Furlong revealed one chat with the ex-Leeds coach was enough to make him realise he actually ought to view the Lions as a goal, not a dream.

The 24-year-old went on to help Ireland topple New Zealand for the first time in Chicago last November, and will now have another crack at the All Blacks in Lions colours in Saturday's first Test.

"It's weird the journey you take when you get your first international start and you get exposed to that big world, and all its pressures," said Furlong, who has 16 Ireland caps.

"As you get used to it and spend more time in that high-pressure environment, you can probably let your game play a bit more.

"I came out of the November Tests with a lot of confidence.

"When you start to put minutes on minutes it can give you that bit of confidence that you can start pushing towards or aiming for something.

"But I think the real moment, the focus for me this year, was when Stuart Lancaster came in to Leinster.

"He obviously hadn't worked with a lot of the players there before.

"And when we sat down he said 'from what I've seen you can really try to push on and aim to be a Lion this year'.

"At first I thought 'jeez man, what are you saying?!'.

"You probably don't see yourself in that picture. But he backed me, gave me a focus and a good drive towards it."

Furlong believes the experience of Ireland's 40-29 scalp of New Zealand seven months ago will boost his assuredness in facing the back-to-back world champions - who have not lost at Eden Park since 1994.

"Before the game in Chicago, we had a lot of players that had played against New Zealand a lot of times," said Furlong.

"They would talk in team meetings and previews, and you're looking into a black hole yourself - you're relying on other people's experiences.

"In my first time playing against New Zealand I didn't really know what to expect, and you're on edge because they can cut you open at any stage.

"From an experience point of view that probably did help, in terms of what to expect."

Mako Vunipola swatted Furlong square on the backside in Saturday's 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks, rebuking the Ireland prop for conceding a penalty for not releasing the ball at a ruck.

Furlong admitted the Saracens and England star was fully justified in dishing out the summary justice, as the Lions bid to stay squeaky clean against the All Blacks.

"I probably woke up the next day and it was all bruised!" joked Furlong of the area that Vunipola made connection with.

"He did have a point, I probably didn't hear him shouting - if you can believe that or not!

"I probably didn't release the ball, so I think it was a fair enough penalty.

"We've got to stay hugely disciplined against the All Blacks, we can't be giving them chances."

Furlong's father James continues to refuse to relent to general pressure and buy a mobile phone, so his mother Margaret will again play the role of family contact across the Lions tour.

"My dad actually still has not got a mobile phone, which he is still pretty happy about," said Furlong.

"My parents are coming over next week, my mum has sorted out roaming, she's got her head around that apparently. So hopefully I'll be able to keep in contact with them.

"It's a proud moment for the family, but you'd probably never get that out of the old fella though!

"He'll just be screaming down the phone because he can't hear me too well!

"But it's a massively proud moment for them, and for my father, who would have supported and followed rugby for a very long time."

PA Media

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