Tadhg Furlong at the World Cup. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
depth chart

Furlong's reign continues but Ireland on lookout for next top tighthead

There are a handful of younger Irish props who could push through in this position.

This piece on Irish rugby’s depth at tighthead prop follows articles about the loosehead options and the hookers at each of the provinces.


TADHG FURLONG ONLY just turned 31, not old for a tighthead prop, and he remains the first-choice tighthead for Ireland, starting all five games at the World Cup recently.

Furlong is regarded as one of the best in the business and though his role has changed slightly in recent seasons and injuries have frustrated him at certain points, he is still a world-class tighthead and will almost certainly aim to make the next World Cup.

But it’s fair to say that Finlay Bealham has managed to close the gap over the last couple of seasons, having earned the trust of the Ireland coaches and most of their fans. The Connacht man turned 32 last month so he’s no auld fella either.

Ulster’s Tom O’Toole has been Andy Farrell’s third-choice tighthead prop for some time now and made important strides of progress last season. Now, he must become Ulster’s first-choice ahead of Marty Moore.

Munster’s 35-year-old John Ryan is the only other tighthead who has been capped in the Farrell era, meaning the Ireland boss hasn’t looked at many other options.

The arrival of Oli Jager in Munster will surely be of great interest to Farrell, who will be watching to see if the former Crusaders tighthead can adapt to rugby back in Ireland. 

There are a number of younger tightheads who have shown promise with the Ireland U20s and their provinces in recent years too, so Farrell may look to widen the pool of tightheads in the coming years. 


  • Tadhg Furlong [31]
  • Thomas Clarkson [23]
  • Temi Lasisi [22]
  • Rory McGuire [21]

rory-mcguire-after-the-game Leinster academy tighthead Rory McGuire. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Furlong has been the main man for province and country at tighthead since the 2016/17 season when previous incumbent Mike Ross finished up. Two-time Lion Furlong has developed into more of a leader and even captained Ireland for the first time last year. The 6ft 1ins, 125kg tighthead has had lots of injury issues in recent seasons but is the clear first-choice for Leinster and Ireland whenever fully fit.

His current back-up in Leinster is Michael Ala’alatoa, a Samoa international, but the 32-year-old has been linked with a move away at the end of his contract in the summer of 2024.

Leinster may look to recruit again at tighthead if Ala’alatoa is leaving. They have one other senior player in this position in 23-year-old Thomas Clarkson, who has continued to learn with three starts this season. Clarkson, who is listed at 6ft 1ins and 118kg, played for the Ireland U20s in 2019 and 2020 and was part of the Emerging Ireland tour last year.

36-year-old loosehead prop Cian Healy has covered tighthead at times in the last couple of seasons and remains a genuine option there if needed. First-choice loosehead Andrew Porter was also a high-quality Test tighthead before switching back across in 2021.

There are two tightheads in the Leinster academy. 125kg Wexford man Temi Lasisi is in his third year with the academy and has made two senior Leinster appearances in the past two seasons, so will be desperate for further chances to show his skills. 

21-year-old Rory McGuire, listed at 6ft 4ins and 123kg, is in his second year with the academy and has already played three times off the bench in the URC, having previously been a starter for the Ireland U20s in 2022 as they won a Grand Slam.

Academy loosehead Paddy McCarthy was a tighthead up until as recently as this year’s U20 Six Nation but moved to the left-hand side of the front row for their run to the World Cup final over the summer and has begun to break through with Leinster as a loosehead.


  • Finlay Bealham [32]
  • Jack Aungier [25]
  • Dominic Robertson-McCoy [30]
  • Sam Illo [22]
  • Fiachna Barrett [20]

finlay-bealham Finlay Bealham recently signed a new Connacht contract. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Bealham has been an important presence with Ireland in the last couple of years, making notable progress as a Test-level tighthead. He made his international debut back in 2016 but last season was a big one for him. 6ft 2ins, 118kg Bealham impressed in a 40-minute outing against South Africa in the 2022 November Tests, then started three games in Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign this year.

His progress has quelled the previous concerns about the gap between Furlong and other Irish tightheads. 32-year-old Bealham is crucial to Connacht and recently signed a new two-year deal with the province.

Having come through the Leinster academy to play for his native province, 6ft 2ins and 118kg tighthead Jack Aungier joined Connacht in 2020 and has gradually developed into the second-in-line behind Bealham. Now 25, Aungier is a former Ireland U20 international.

The Irish-qualified Dominic Robertson-McCoy was previously the back-up to Bealham before being told there was no contract extension for him in 2022. However, Connacht ended up re-contracting the New Zealand native only a few months later and he remains part of their senior squad today.

22-year-old Sam Illo, who is 118kg and just over 6ft, hails from Dublin and came through the Leinster pipeline before joining Connacht in 2021 after an impressive campaign with the Ireland U20s. He has started just one game for Connacht so far but was part of the Emerging Ireland tour last year.

Connacht now also have exciting 20-year-old prospect Fiachna Barrett in their academy. The Mayo man won 10 caps for the Ireland U20s this year, backing up Leinster’s Paddy McCarthy and then Munster’s Ronan Foxe at tighthead.


  • John Ryan [35]
  • Stephen Archer [35]
  • Oli Jager [28]
  • Roman Salanoa [26]
  • Keynan Knox [24]
  • Darragh McSweeney [21]
  • Ronan Foxe [20]

roman-salanoa Hawaii native Roman Salanoa. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The 35-year-old pair of John Ryan and Stephen Archer have continued to be the frontline tighthead duo for Munster early this season. 120kg Ryan re-joined after an enjoyable stint with the Chiefs in New Zealand and having also had a spell with Wasps before they went bust. He last played for Ireland in 2021.

119kg Archer hasn’t been part of Farrell’s plans but he has remained crucial for his province and will become the province’s all-time record caps holder with 270 against Leinster today. It’s a huge achievement for the popular Cork man.

Both Ryan and Archer are out of contract at the end of this season and it remains to be seen whether they stay on, but Munster have just added a new tighthead with the arrival of 28-year-old Jager from the Crusaders in New Zealand on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

At 6ft 4ins and 128kg, the Kildare man is a big unit and arrives in Munster after being part of a Crusaders set-up that won seven consecutive Super Rugby titles. The former Ireland U18 international will surely have some challenges adapting, especially mid-season, but Ireland boss Farrell will be watching that process closely.

Farrell will also be hoping that Roman Salanoa, who recently turned 26, can bounce back from his current knee injury. The 5ft 11, 128kg Hawaii native made great progress last season, helping Munster to their URC title, also featuring for Emerging Ireland, and then being called into Ireland’s Six Nations squad as injury cover. A big, explosive athlete with much-improved skills, he has been very unlucky with injuries.

While 24-year-old Keynan Knox, a native of South Africa who joined Munster’s academy straight out of school, has seemingly fallen out of favour recently and is out of contract at the end of the season, there is some excitement about the two academy tightheads.

21-year-old Darragh McSweeney featured for the Ireland U20s in 2022 and is a large man at 6ft 3ins and 127kg, while 20-year-old Ronan Foxe joined after an impressive World Cup with the Ireland U20s. A product of the Leinster Youths pipeline, Foxe has relocated to Munster this season.


  • Marty Moore [32]
  • Tom O’Toole [25]
  • Greg McGrath [26]
  • James French [25]
  • Ben Griffin [21]
  • Scott Wilson [21]
  • Cameron Doak [19]

tom-otoole Tom O'Toole has 12 Ireland caps. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The experienced 32-year-old Marty Moore has just returned from a long-term knee injury and will look to continue to hold off the challenge of 25-year-old O’Toole, who is the current third-choice at tighthead for Ireland.

Moore’s last Ireland caps came all the way back in 2015 and he had been overlooked by Farrell until last year when he was brought into the Ireland A side to face the All Blacks XV. Just two months later, he suffered a ruptured ACL and any chance at reviving his Test career was put on ice.

Farrell has shown faith in 6ft, 123kg O’Toole’s ability to develop and has been rewarded this year, with the Drogheda man making five strong appearances off the bench during the Six Nations to earn his place at the World Cup. Now 25, O’Toole will be determined to become the starter in Ulster and he looked aggressive on his return from the World Cup against the Bulls recently before having a procedure to help him overcome a groin injury. He is due back soon.

In the meantime, academy tighthead Scott Wilson has started to make a name for himself in recent weeks with his first two senior appearances, both of which have been punchy. Part of the Grand Slam-winning Ireland U20s set-up in 2022, Wilson looks like a powerful, skillful tighthead prospect.

Ulster do have a couple of other options in their senior squad in former Leinster and Connacht man Greg McGrath, who joined as cover after Jersey Reds went into liquidation, as well as ex-Munster man James French, who is another former Ireland U20 cap. Clontarf prop Ben Griffin, who has impressed in the AIL, signed a one-year development deal with Ulster ahead of this season.

As well as Wilson, the Ulster academy includes the highly-regarded Cameron Doak, the younger brother of senior scrum-half Nathan. A big, powerful young man who was also a talented cricketer, Doak featured at loosehead in Ulster’s pre-season games ahead of this campaign, but is expected to push on as a tighthead.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel