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Attention to detail is key to improving Irish lineout, says Tadhg Furlong

Off colour: Ireland’s lineout against Italy
Off colour: Ireland’s lineout against Italy

By Cian Tracey

There is very little room for sentimentality at this level, so as soon as Rob Herring walked into the Ireland camp at the expense of Sean Cronin, the page was quickly turned.

Yet for those players who played their part in the malfunctioning lineout in Rome, there must be a nagging feeling at the back of their minds that they could have done more at the set-piece.

Ultimately, the buck stops with the hooker, and as much as the Ireland management insist that Cronin was not dropped for his performance against Italy, the reality is that he almost certainly would have retained his place had he hit his targets with his darts.

The lineout will have an altogether different complexion for the visit of France on Sunday, yet it is still difficult to get away from the idea that Cronin has been made the fall guy for a faltering lineout that has so many other moving parts to it than just the throw.

So from that end, surely all of the responsibility does not fall on Cronin's shoulders?

"No, it doesn't," Tadhg Furlong insists.

"When you are talking about the lineout, there is so much that goes into it; the throw, the lift, the call, the movement, the speed, how we need to get set in the lineout, how we walk in, the gap, there is a massive amount of stuff there, so it is tough."

Furlong's role in the lineout is one that may go unnoticed by some, but it is one that sums up just how accurate the lifters have to be in order to execute cleanly.

"I suppose with all these things, when you have a role in it, you focus on your role," the tighthead explains.

"How did I do? What was my job, how did I execute on it?

"You kind of break it down that way a bit. A lot of the time at the lineout, at the front in defence or at the back in attack, you have a job to do.

"Even for the smallest jobs when you get your lift up, don't break the 15 (metre line), which sounds like a small thing but the difference if we are playing off the top and I break the 15, it means they can automatically start closing in on that 10 metres.

"Small roles like that, you always look at that, you always look at the quality of your lift, you always look at your footwork and how you get into the plant position to lift.

"There is so much to it, like after the lift, how you transition from the lift into the maul position or if you are coming into the maul, there is that sort of second wave of players.

"What is your body height like? How much impact did you add to it? It is massively technical.

"My role is a tiny bit in the lineout, but I suppose you take pride in your work and how you do it. It's something that we would recognise within a forward pack that maybe spectators and people looking at it probably wouldn't understand the level of detail we put in it.

"In terms of lineout calling; the throw, where we try and win the ball, how we try to win the ball.

"It doesn't affect me. I can't contribute to that. I don't call lineouts, I don't throw a ball, but what you do do, you try to take pride in your work."

Fixing the lineout will have been one of several items on the agenda this week as Ireland continue to seek a more complete performance.

Joe Schmidt's side have struggled to get over the gain-line with their usual kind of regularity, which is down to a number of reasons.

On one hand, the likes of Furlong and James Ryan are marked men now and, on the other, defences are now doubling up in the tackle area, thus making it more difficult to break through.

"It's tough - against defences that a lot of the time, you're carrying the ball, especially me, I probably wouldn't carry or find myself in the wider channels," Furlong maintains.

"A lot of my carrying is off nine. It's a tough thing to do because a lot of the time, it might be off a kick.

"And sometimes it's not even about getting on the front foot, it's trying to survive in those ones where they are going forward and flying off the line at you.

"But a lot of the time, it's a lot of two-man hits. Most defences in world rugby nowadays are looking for two-man hits and it's very, very hard.

"There has to be options. You can't be, 'Oh, he's going to get the ball.'

"It's something that we're working hard on. It's something that we do well, where you have those options either way.

"I suppose it is easier to play those options when you are getting front-foot ball regularly.

"Sometimes as a forward pack, I definitely felt myself it is hard to make a metre and a half without quick ball or that momentum in the carry."

While the lineout may have creaked last time out, the scrum continues to be solid, with Furlong at the heart of it.

"I'm at the stage with my scrummaging where I probably feel the most confident - not confident, that's probably the wrong word - where I'm more consistent maybe than I have been in the past few years," the Wexford native adds.

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