Belfast Telegraph

Lions v All Blacks: Furlong ready to take next step in bid for immortality

 

By 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, 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.

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. 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.

"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 said 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 backed me and I suppose gave me a focus and goal to drive towards."

After November, the All Blacks are fully aware of what Furlong is capable of. His rise continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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