WHEN HE WAS finally called ashore last night, Tadhg Furlong had already emptied the tank for Ireland over the course of 76 gruelling minutes.
John Ryan was being sent on to lend his weight to a scrum under the east stand, Furlong pointed himself west with nine carries, 11 tackles and about 13 scrums weighing him down.
As the crowd rose to meet him, the TV cameras closed in and caught him digging deep for air and one last leg drive to carry himself across the field.
The longer he took, the more raucous the standing ovation grew. Front rows often have reason to gripe that they don’t get the recognition like the boys at the back, yet Furlong just might be Ireland’s favourite rugby player.
“It was so confrontational and such a tough game, it was a great reception, and such a great thing to get.” said a smiling Furlong after agreeing that his departure was more of a trudge than a glide.
“When I was coming off – and I was walking off – that was a really special moment for me, and something that I’ll reflect on hopefully in years to come.Those special moments in big games like that.”
Across the four founding nations, most onlookers have placed Furlong as the cornerstone of their Lions Test XV for the summer tour to New Zealand ahead. The Wexford man threatens to roll his eyes at the latest suggestion. He’s had this hype thrown at him since November, but like any good prop, he’s adept at staying low.
Well, what’s done is done now isn’t it? I’ve a few days off now and then we’re into the Champions Cup with Leinster. So you don’t get too many chances to think about ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’.
“If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. You roll with the punches whatever way it comes.”
Mention of the looming Champions Cup quarter-final sparks another silver lining from the way Ireland’s tournament ended – on top of sealing a spot among the top four seeds in the World Cup draw. Everyone agrees the tournament as a whole has been a frustrating one for Joe Schmidt’s squad, but with Leinster facing English opposition back in the Aviva Stadium on April Fool’s day, a late jolt of confidence is very welcome indeed.
With the form he’s in though, Furlong won’t need any extra morale boost.
He will be refuelled and ready for another massive shift when he returns to Lansdowne Road wearing blue in two weeks’ time.