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'It's big boy rugby, isn't it?' - DJ Furlong fired up for the Springboks

The Ireland tighthead prop is relishing the set-piece battle this weekend.

Furlong celebrates a scrum penalty against the Sharks.
Furlong celebrates a scrum penalty against the Sharks.

TADHG FURLONG SUMS up the weekend ahead for the Lions succinctly.

“It’s big boy rugby, isn’t it?

“Top-end rugby. As a front five, it’s a very good barometer of where we’re at.”

The Ireland prop, who is expected to start at tighthead against the Springboks on Saturday in Cape Town, isn’t wrong. Taking on the 2019 World Cup winners is as hefty a challenge as exists in rugby at present, even if they won’t have home fans and even if their build-up has been heavily disrupted.

Furlong and his fellow forwards face a ferocious test of their mettle in the opening Test.

“It’s so ingrained in their DNA, that scrum dominance, the maul dominance, it’s a huge challenge for whatever forward pack and whatever subs are selected,” said the Wexford man this morning.

“It’s one of the great things about playing a Test series in South Africa. I think the lads will be hugely up for it.”

The Boks have lost loosehead Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira to retirement since the World Cup, but Steven Kitshoff is a superb replacement.

He and Furlong battled each other as long ago as the U20 World Championship in 2012. The Boks are also hopeful of having the strong-scrummaging hooker Bongi Mbonambi and tighthead Frans Malherbe fit after their recent Covid-enforced isolation.

tadhg-furlong-with-steven-kitshoff-and-eben-etzebeth Furlong in action against Kitshoff [number 17] in 2017. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Furlong knows that things take a huge step up this weekend but believes the Lions pack will be ready.

“You’re coming up against a passionate crew who take pride in their work and art at scrum time,” said the Leinster prop.

“Yes, we’ve not been playing the Springboks, we’ve been playing the provincial teams or the franchises, but they still take massive pride in their scrum and they’re big men.

“It’s been tough, it’s been a good workout for us, it’s been a good challenge and it’s trying to get on the same page very, very quickly and getting the feel of the scrum really, that would be the big thing for me because it does take time to create a better partnership.”

It remains unclear who will be alongside Furlong in the starting Lions front row, with intense competition at hooker and loosehead prop.

Kyle Sinckler has done well at tighthead since his call-up for the injured Andrew Porter but it would be a big shock if Furlong doesn’t continue from 2017 as the first-choice in the number three shirt.

He’s a much-improved and more mature player than the 24-year-old version of himself on that tour of New Zealand.

“At that point, you are probably a deer in the headlights a small bit in terms of Test rugby and what it meant. I was probably fairly green.

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“I like to think that I have added a bit to my game. I’m certainly not there where I can be regarding certain aspects but that is part of being a rugby player; you’re always trying to push it on, drive on and get that little bit better.”

tadhg-furlong-and-kyle-sinckler-after-the-game Furlong and Kyle Sinckler back in 2017. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Off the pitch, Furlong has been at ease in this Lions group and several of his team-mates have mentioned his new foray into the world of DJing in recent weeks.

“It’s over-egged, to be honest with you really,” said Furlong. “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 in the hotel and stuff like that.

“So, Tom Curry found decks and decided he wanted to be a DJ. I was like ‘Look, let’s have a go, ‘ 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.”

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Murray Kinsella

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