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‘Rossy, you were born in the ‘70s!’: Relentless Furlong ready to take over tighthead mantle

The Wexford man is good friends with his mentor and rival for the number three shirt.

“‘ROSSY, YOU WERE born in the ‘70s!’

“I’m (born in) ’92 and you’re two generations older.’”

“He’s like: ‘you’re obsessed with my age, Tadhg, I’m fine!’”

Tadhg Furlong is not a man who’s going to be happy being anyone’s understudy. Not any more.

Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong and Mike Ross Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He’s good friends with Mike Ross, and Furlong offers the above exchange to show how well the two get along. But at 23 with eight international caps under his belt now, the Wexford man is ready take over the mantle of Leinster’s first choice tighthead from the 36-year-old.

Having tasted his first Test start in the summer and come away from a battle with Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtwarira, confidence in his own game has been boosted.

“If I was asked to play from the start, I think I would be able to do a job,” says Furlong when asked if he felt ready to be the recognised first-choice.

“You have to back yourself. I’ve been floating around for a while. I’m 23, turning 24 in November. I’m into my third year in the senior squad. I’ve gained a lot of experience.

“Last year, I probably grew a lot as a player, as a person within the set-up. I feel confident. I feel happy with the way pre-season has gone and with the first few games of the season.

“If called upon, yeah, there’s no problem about playing.”

Tadhg Furlong Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There are some parts of Furlong’s game which look to have fewer problems than others. The New Ross man is a dream for coaches who want to play expansive rugby: good hands, no stranger to offloads, incredibly light on his feet for a man of 120 kilos and an incessant work-rate.

“Tadhg’s excellent,” says Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty, fresh from casting an eye on Furlong’s 64 minutes in the win over Ospreys.

“Tadhg was involved in 35 breakdowns at the weekend and he was effective in 93% of those breakdowns.”

If you’re wondering, yes. That is a remarkable contribution for a prop, comparable to Jack McGrath’s 31 involvements over 80 minutes in the summer win over the Springboks.

Fogarty adds: “The obvious things that he does well around the scrum, around the set-piece, but what he can offer us in the game… through breakdown and his carry and his defence and the energy he can bring to the team is huge.

“When you can get that out of your tightheads, that’s really positive. We want to play the game with a bit of width, we want it to be high energy. We want to play the game at pace and when he’s hitting 35 breakdowns and he’s effective in 93% of them that’s a huge number for us.”

And the pesky 7%?

He’s an excellent player who reads the game very well, he’s a smart guy and he’s humble enough to come back in on Monday, look at the couple he didn’t get right; be annoyed about it and then work hard to get it right and improve week in, week out.”

Furlong reported that his legs felt pretty fresh, despite that Trojan hour’s work being his first start of the season. Yet he’s not about to get carried away thinking of the glamorous international opportunities on either side of the Atlantic in November. The focus remains on backing up a powerful display with a few more as Leinster attempt to keep the pressure on league leaders Ulster, take on Munster and then head into Europe.

It’s a path Ross knows well, and a role he’s still more than able to hold his own in. Furlong is happy to keep learning from the Corkman, even if he’s keeping out him of the number three jersey now and then.

‘Under his wing’

“To be fair to Rossy, he’s playing some really good rugby at the minute, and some of the best stuff is around the field, the contribution he’s making is really, really good,” Furlong says after the smile accompanying his slagging of the 61-cap Test veteran subsides.

“When you look at someone like Rossy who has done it for so long, I suppose he’s so consistent in his scrum and coaches have that trust in him, they know he’s always going to do a job because he’s done it on the big stage and he’s done it so many times.

“So I think when you look at Rossy, that’s what you have to take – the work he puts into the scrum, the way he brings young lads through.

He threw me under his wing there when I came into the academy five or six years ago. The way be brings you lads through is really good for the front row unit because at the end of the day we do a lot of work together.

“It’s ‘the dark arts’ and I suppose no one really gets what we do, other than each other, and we have a huge amount of respect for each other. Tighthead, loosehead, hooker – he’s really good for bringing that group together.

“The main thing (I’ve learned from him) would be the consistency in the scrum, what he brings every week.”

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