There is a nervousness among the Lions squad – the kind of tension that comes at the start of every Test week.
The players are feeling it, and Tadhg Furlong was on hand to per¬fectly sum up the sense of anticipa¬tion within the group.
“It’s big-boy rugby, on a big stage, you can feel it around the place,” Furlong said. “It has a lot of importance on it – rugby players in general rise to these occasions, with that internal want to do well.”
Furlong has been around the block and although he is perceived as one of the few nailed-on starters ahead of Saturday’s first Test against South Africa, the Ireland tighthead is on edge as much as any of his team-mates who are less sure of their place in the team.
The 28-year-old made his first Test start against the Springboks on Ireland’s summer tour in 2016, but he hasn’t gone toe-to-toe with South Africa since 2017, when the Boks were hammered 38-3 in Dublin.
As a prop widely recognised as the world leader in his position, Furlong is relishing the chance to pit himself against the Boks’ fearsome scrum.
“It’s big-boy rugby, isn’t it? Top-end rugby, as a front-five it’s a very good barometer of where we are at,” the Wexford native maintained.
“Everyone’s a little bit on edge. We’re into the nitty-gritty of the tour now and it means a lot to people so everyone is just waiting to see how it pans out if you are in or out.
“You can feel it a small bit. Yeah, definitely from this morning, a small little bit of mood that there is, there is that bit of nervousness there.
“It’s massive, isn’t it? There are some very experienced players in the group, it’s a Test match, we are back to a full week’s prep which feels a lot more formal to all the players here; then we just get on with our work; when it is time to switch off and enjoy each other’s company, we can do that too.”
As much as Furlong is expected to lock down the Lions’ scrum on
Saturday, Warren Gatland will also want the Leinster man to utilise his vast skill-set.
Having recently re-watched previous Lions Tests, Furlong is determined to build on the last tour in New Zealand.
“I remember during lockdown there were a lot of Lions games on (TV), a lot of that 2017 tour was on.
“You kinda look back and think, ‘I’m not doing a whole lot in the game’, you’re working hard, kick-chasing, hitting rucks hard – but there wasn’t a whole lot going on apart from the set-piece and hitting the rucks hard.
“I like to think that I have added a bit to my game, I am certainly not there where I can be regarding certain aspects but that is part of being a rugby player; you are always trying to push it on, drive on and get that little bit better.”
Away from the pitch, Furlong has also been making his presence felt within the Lions camp, as he has taken on an interesting new hobby.
Known as the ‘Jukebox’ back home in Campile, Furlong is giving his nickname a new meaning.
“The long and short of it is, Tom Curry found decks, they brought a lot of stuff over for us, just to keep us entertained obviously with the hotel and stuff like that,” Furlong added.
“So, Tom Curry found decks and decided he wanted to be a DJ. I was like, ‘Look, let’s have a go.’ It’s a bit of craic, trying to learn a new skill or what have you.
“It went terribly. And then we found out Josh Navidi or Navici as we are calling him, he actually is a DJ, he actually does a bit of DJing in clubs, so we tried to learn a little bit off him.
“We have done a coffee morning, heavily helped by Navici and that’s about it. We are terrible. I wouldn’t be trying to sell any tickets for a night any time soon!”