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Lions chief Gatland's Carton House scouting mission not a distraction: Furlong

By Jonathan Bradley

After spells with Ireland, Connacht and Galwegians, Warren Gatland is a familiar face in these parts going back many years but the sight of the Kiwi at Carton House yesterday would still be expected to turn a few heads.

The man charged with masterminding the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand this summer was there to cast his eye over the Irish hopefuls. However, Leinster prop Tadhg Furlong revealed he went virtually unnoticed by the playing squad.

“Not a chance,” said the refreshingly frank 24-year-old when asked if thoughts of a red jersey would loom over Saturday’s Six Nations opener with Scotland.

“Weeks like this, they are big enough occasions.

“We didn’t realise he was on the sideline anyway, we just tip away for most of the training session.

“It (was) a Tuesday anyway. Tuesdays tend to be a huge workday with the squad whether Gats is here or not.

“Tuesday ramps it up in the pressure and preparation for the weekend.”

That Furlong is in the Lions conversation — perhaps now even too prominent a player to be classed as something of a bolter — is testament to how he has adapted to the Test arena over the last eight months, stealing away the tighthead jersey from the long-serving Mike Ross and now readying himself for cap number 12.

Despite his now undisputed status as the country’s first choice No.3, the Wexford native is still brimming with anticipation when considering the confrontation that awaits in Murrayfield this weekend.

“I’m a bit more relaxed I’d say with the whole process of it all now, how it works,” he said. “Travelling away on the Thursday, getting more experience of that, then you can focus on building up to your own game a small bit and what is required.

“(But) look, it is very serious business, international rugby.

“I suppose you’re representing the nation, aren’t you?

“Non-rugby fans and even the most casual of rugby fans tune into the Six Nations when it is on.

“They’re huge occasions and there’s added pressure on you, but I think that’s why everyone plays rugby, you get to play on the big stage.

“It’s exciting, there’s no real motivation needed for yourself to get up for a game, it’s there already and it’s great to be a part of it.

“You think you’re incredibly lucky to have a chance to be involved in something like it.”

And with the mantra that the next game is always the hardest proving popular around County Kildare this week — both players and management know how much stands between them and the potential of the public’s sought-after Grand Slam decider against England in the final round — Furlong expects the contest to be a huge physical challenge.

“They take a lot to the scrum,” he said of Vern Cotter’s men. “Even though Zander Fagerson’s a pretty young tighthead, he’s got a really good shape in there.

“You look at the back five, they’re all big strong men, the second rows especially, and as soon as that ball enters the scrum they have a very good snap.”

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