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Analysis: Tadhg Furlong absolutely emptied the tank for Ireland

The tighthead prop had to play 77 minutes in a performance that showed his huge work-rate.

THE THINGS PLAYERS do on the ball understandably tend to grab most of our attention.

Big carries, rapid footwork, and slick offloads naturally all stand out to us watching games live but there is a whole world of work going on off the ball, in attack and defence.

Hard-working and intelligent support play is crucial to any attack, as is the effort of players to set up in good positions before the ball comes their way. 

tadhg-furlong-leaves-the-field-with-an-injury Tadhg Furlong put in a huge effort against Scotland on Saturday. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

That applies equally to defence and Tadhg Furlong is one player who very often illustrates the importance of working hard off the ball when Leinster and Ireland are defending. Furlong is among the fittest and hardest-working tightheads in the game, with his efforts off the ball illustrating that.

We got a few examples on Saturday as the tighthead had to play 77 minutes for Ireland due to the concussion that loosehead Dave Kilcoyne suffered just 50 seconds after coming off the bench for Cian Healy, who had to return almost immediately.

Ireland boss Andy Farrell then opted to send sub tighthead Andrew Porter on in his former position of loosehead with 15 minutes remaining, meaning Furlong had to continue until the very dying minutes, when his calves gave up on him.

It was little surprise to see Furlong succumb in the closing stages, given that he was cramping in the 56th minute.

Cramp

This came after one of Furlong’s total 10 carries for Ireland on Saturday, all of which came in very tight channels. The 122kg prop beat two defenders, getting over the gainline on seven of his carries.

Furlong and the rest of Ireland’s pack will have been deeply frustrated to have such a poor return with their mauling efforts and will spend plenty of time this week fixing their lethargy in getting set to drive. Furlong will have been disappointed with the lack of impact in some of his early tackles too.

There were two scrum penalties against Ireland on Cian Healy’s loosehead side – the first of which was certainly harsh as Zander Fagerson’s knee went to ground first – and the Irish tight five will look for more dominance there against Wales. 

Furlong conceded a penalty with his failure to roll away from a tackle in the second half, but we’re keen to examine the huge work-rate he delivered off the ball.

The 27-year-old is now part of Ireland’s leadership group and his efforts in the two examples below are certainly leading by example.

The first comes soon before half-time as Garry Ringrose’s clever pass [white below] allows centre partner Bundee Aki to break [red].

Bust

We can see Furlong [circled in yellow above] in a midfield position as Aki breaks, meaning the tighthead now needs to get upfield.

Aki returns a pass inside to Ringrose, who is tackled as he slaloms to his right, where James Ryan makes a superb clearout to prevent Fraser Brown from earning a turnover. 

On the next phase, Ireland go left with Murray attempting to find out-half Johnny Sexton with his pass [white below], only for Sam Johnson to intercept it.

Intercept

Some of the key scrambling players are highlighted above – Jacob Stockdale [white] is the one who actually tackles Johnson, while Sexton [the intended recipient of Murray's pass] is vital.

Furlong [yellow] is in midfield beside Iain Henderson [blue], while fullback Jordan Larmour [red], as one of Ireland’s quicker players, is also an important piece of the picture.

As Johnson accelerates away, we can see the early work-rate from Ireland as they react. 

Chase

We’re most interested in Furlong [yellow] and Henderson [blue] here, two tight five forwards who obviously aren’t as fast as the backs.

Stockdale shows his speed to catch Johnson, who has Adam Hastings [pink below] in support on his left.

As Stockdale engages into the tackle, we can see that Larmour has stood off on the inside, worried about that pass inside to Hastings.

Tackle

Johnson also has Maitland on his right but Stockdale’s chase means that pass is never a possibility and Johnson doesn’t appear to consider grubber-kicking the ball ahead for his wing to go after.

Meanwhile, we can see that Henderson [blue above] has made a huge effort and shown real pace to get close to the ball, while Furlong [yellow] is working as hard as possible to stay in touch.

Sexton [white arrow above] is also on the scene and he’s vital as Johnson passes to Hastings just as Stockdale makes contact with him…

Pass

… and Hastings swerves to his right…

Swerve

… beating Larmour’s diving tackle. Hastings would be free to send Maitland in for the score here, but for Sexton having tracked back to tackle him. 

As we can see below, Hastings is in the process of offloading towards Maitland as Sexton tackles him.

TackleJS

Importantly for Ireland, Henderson [blue] has continued to work hard, while they also benefit from the fact that Hastings’ offload doesn’t go straight to hand, instead bouncing once before reaching Maitland.

You could call that luck, but Ireland’s scramble has ensured it’s not a cleaner offload.

Still, Maitland is in a great position as he scoops the ball up: a one-on-one with a second row.

Chance

Maitland opts to step back to Henderson’s inside shoulder as the lock tracks across the pitch, hoping to leave the Ireland lock flat-footed…

Inside

… but Henderson – who is also part of Ireland’s leadership group – readjusts and stretches out to make a magnificent tackle on Maitland [blue below].

Offload

As we can see above, Scotland lock Scott Cummings is outside Maitland and there is a window of possibility for an offload to Cummings [as indicated in white].

But we can see that Furlong [yellow] has worked all the way back to be in a position to cover that possible offload.

It’s also worth highlighting Peter O’Mahony [red] here, the flanker having tracked a long way back from an initial position wide on the right of Ireland’s attack.

It’s debatable whether Cummings would have scored from an offload here but the work-rate from Furlong and several of his team-mates ensures Scotland aren’t able to convert the intercept directly into a try, as Maitland dies with the ball in Henderson’s tackle.

Done

On the next phase, good linespeed from Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander in midfield [red below] prevents Hastings from kicking directly cross-field, as he hopes to do. 

They also deny him the chance to whip a long pass wide to the dangerous Stuart Hogg.

Linespeed

Hastings does duck inside Stander and get a kick away, but it’s a scrappy connection and flies straight across the pitch without velocity, allowing Ireland time to get bodies across to their right.

More Scottish offloads follow through Nick Haining, Blair Kinghorn, and Stuart Hogg but then Stander gets back again to jackal over Zander Fagerson as O’Mahony brings the Scotland prop to ground.

Jackal

As we can see above, van der Flier – who was excellent in defence – clamps onto Stander and anchors him in place to complete the turnover penalty.

Ireland survive the intercept and kept their 10-6 lead intact into the half-time break.

Furlong doesn’t actually engage in a tackle in this passage but his effort to get back downfield is important. Had he not been in position, Maitland may have offloaded and Scotland may have scored.

Neither of those things was guaranteed but work-rate is crucial in any successful team, even when the player working hard isn’t directly involved.

Furlong did have to tackle at an important time later in the game, when Scotland broke through Ireland’s frontline in the 75th minute.

As the phase begins, we note Furlong [yellow] and James Ryan [red] over on the far side of the ruck.

WR

Just in behind Furlong, scrum-half John Cooney is setting off to sweep in behind the frontline as Scotland attack to their left. 

Hastings sends Stuart McInally [red] into a gap in Ireland’s defence, as Bundee Aki reads off McInally, appearing to think that Andrew Porter on his inside has the Scotland hooker covered. Porter is, instead, initially concerned with the running threat of Hastings.

SM

McInally bursts through Porter and Aki’s attempt to recover before dumping the ball back inside to Hamish Watson, who is briefly tugged back by O’Mahony.

HW

Upon receiving the ball, and with O’Mahony releasing his jersey, Watson swerves to his right [white below] to evade Cooney.

We can see that Stockdale [blue] is in the backfield but there is also important work-rate off the ball from Furlong and Ryan.

WRR

Ryan [red above] and Furlong [yellow] have turned on the acceleration and are working hard to retreat downfield as Ireland now scramble.

The value of their hard work is clear as Watson slips through Stockdale’s tackle…

JS

… only for Furlong and Ryan to thunder into a double tackle on him…

Tackle

We can see that Cooney – one of the quickest players in Ireland’s squad – is also close by and he would have fancied his chances of scragging Watson had Furlong and Ryan not tracked back.

But, again, that wasn’t a certainty. There wouldn’t have been too many complaints about Furlong and Ryan if Ireland had conceded here.

Few people would have really noticed if they hadn’t made this sprinting effort to get back down the pitch. Most would have focused on the poor frontline defence from Ireland and the missed tackle by Stockdale in behind. 

But Furlong and Ryan’s work-rate ensured there was no ‘what if.’

They drive Watson to ground and as the Scotland flanker offloads, Cooney is there to tackle Allan Dell…

Cooney

… which, in turn, allows Ronan Kelleher and O’Mahony to jackal and slow Scotland’s possession down, giving Ireland time to recover their defensive organisation.

This remarkable passage of play actually lasts another two minutes and 26 seconds before Stander finally earns Ireland the turnover penalty.

Furlong and Ryan have more work to do before that relieving penalty.

As we can see below, Furlong is cramping again after the tackle on Watson.

Cramp 2

But his shift isn’t finished yet.

24 seconds later, he’s involved in a tackle on Ben Toolis…

Tackle

Skip forward 22 seconds and Ryan is assisting in a tackle on Cummings…

Ryan

Another 22 seconds on, another Ryan tackle on McInally…

Ryan2

Ireland are losing yards, though, and find themselves defending their tryline.

30 seconds after the tackle above, Ryan combines with Furlong and O’Mahony for a brilliant stop on WP Nel…

3

Just after O’Mahony and Kelleher make a remarkable tryline stop on Dell – and amidst some clear offside from Ireland with their hands on the ground beyond their tryline – we see more work-rate from Furlong as he folds around the ruck…

Fold

… and combines with Aki for a huge shot on Cummings that wins Ireland a few vital inches.

Shot

That tackle greatly slows Scotland’s possession as Ryan now also fold around the corner as Scotland prepare themselves to go again…

Ready

Watson is the next Scottish carrier but Ryan – another of Ireland’s leadership group – instantly fells him with an excellent chop tackle low around his ankles…

Chop

… allowing Stander and Henshaw to pounce over the tackled Watson, Stander getting his right hand onto the ball and holding firm as Toolis and then Kinghorn attempt to smash him away.

Stander

Stander’s approach to the breakdown here is definitely suspect and arguably from the side, although the presence of the latching McInally on the ground beyond the ball on Ireland’s side means Stander can’t swing his legs into that space. 

Mathieu Raynal is satisfied with the legitimacy of the turnover and Ryan’s superb tackle at the end of a passage of play lasting 3 minutes and 27 seconds in total allows Ireland to relieve the pressure.

Furlong, having expended the last ounce of his energy and cramping heavily, is helped off the pitch.

Done

A sloppy infringement from Devin Toner, stepping into the gap, at Ireland’s subsequent lineout does mean that have to defend again.

But the 33-year-old atones for his error by delivering a strong first tackle as Scotland run their free-kick. Toner also delivers the final tackle of the game, chopping Dell strongly to allow the jackaling van der Flier to force a knock-on from the Scots.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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