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'At the breakdown he's like a back row': The Bull Hayes hoping to see Furlong shine through Lions tour

The Munster legend has seen both sides of the Lions tour with his experiences in 2005 and 2009.

Hayes packs down against Taranaki in 2005.
Hayes packs down against Taranaki in 2005.
Image: INPHO

NEW ZEALANDERS, THROUGH no intended malice, have a habit of putting down players from this part of the world. Simply because they can’t feign familiarity with them.

Sure, the two islands are rugby country and obsessed with the oval ball, but their obsession doesn’t extend to poring over footage of European competitions.

A veteran of two Lions tours and a cornerstone of Ireland’s pack for 105 Tests, John Hayes was never the most boisterous or flash presence in any room. And as a tighthead used to having his head buried in rucks and scrums, screen-time and public awareness was never a primary concern. So the anonymity didn’t bother him, yet he could see an unusual number of peers sent down to his rung of international celebrity.

“The only one they knew down there was Jonny Wilkinson because he had won the World Cup,” said the Bruff man, making a rare media appearance on behalf of EirSport and the Chromecast facility that’s now available on their app.

In the case of Irish players, there may be a heightened awareness this time around after two epic tussles last November. At the very least, Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read ought to remember Tadhg Furlong.


The Wexford man is on the replacements bench for the tour’s opening match against a Provincial XV, but he will get plenty of opportunity to claim a Test berth in the coming weeks. Chances to redouble his popularity in Ireland and swell his reputation elsewhere.

“There will be a new star down there,” adds Hayes, “every Lions tour throws up somebody who needs to take it on. (Furlong) could be one up front for the Lions. If he plays like has has all year, that could happen for him.”

A word of caution, though, from the centurion:

“It has been a long season for him and it will be a big ask for him to continue doing it into July. That’s a long way from here even at this stage. But he could be the man for the job.

“He has an all-round game,there are no ifs or buts about it. His scrummaging is good, his ball-carrying is good, his breakdown is top class: you see him at the breakdown, he is like a back-row. Even Dean Mumm got sin-binned (and cited) trying to lift him off a ball in the autumn. He is an all-round player. That really marks out a top-class operator. Somebody who has everything.”

Kyle Sinckler and Tadhg Furlong Furlong with Sinckler at Lions training in Carton House. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 43-year old echoed concern over fatigue for Munster back rows Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, particularly the number eight who has struggled to make the impacts that make him such an effective force.

“Only CJ knows how good or bad his ankle is going to be. He is the type of character, when you are a captain and a leader, you are going to try to play on. You don’t want to just pull out for any reason.”

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When Hayes last suited up for the Lions eight years ago, he had no concerns over fatigue, having been left out of the original squad to do no more than tend to his farm. Once called to South Africa, he found the hunger for battle.

(Ian) McGeechan asked me was I fit. I said ‘I don’t know about that, but I’m fresh anyway!’

“I’d done nothing in about three weeks. I don’t know whether I was supposed to have kept training or not. I was at home and I’d done nothing, Absolutely nothing.

“Answered the phone…after a while, I played in two games, a midweek game and then involved in the last test. I was fresh, I don’t think I’d lost an awful lot of fitness because I’d played so much.

“I think it worked for me. If I were to play another game the week after, I would have been flying. I was only getting going. It’s a huge ask for these guys, when they go into July it’ll be into 12 months. It’s getting to be a big ask. They (tours or World Cups) are coming every two years, so there’s no breaks.”

With that attrition in mind, injuries are inevitable for the current Lions squad. So Hayes is a fine reminder to men like Garry Ringrose who are in and around the standby list to just hang on in there, a bite at the All Blacks is not beyond reach yet.

unnamed John Hayes was in Dublin yesterday at the eir Sport launch to announce that eir broadband customers can now cast the eir Sport app through chromecast to their TV and that eir Sport have the rights to show the Irish Rugby tour of Japan and the US exclusively live. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I could nearly guarantee you, there’s going to be fellas not on the tour today, who could be on the Test team. Lions tours are full of that, that’s the way it goes.”

The Munster legend has experienced both sides of the experience, before 2009′s whirlwind call-up to Test, he was part of Geordan Murphy’s ‘dirt-trackers’ – the midweek squad so hastily separated from Clive Woodward’s pre-determined Test elite.

“I actually ended up enjoying that tour,” Hayes says enthusiastically, his massive frame resting on giant forearms planted on a table in Old Wesley’s clubhouse.

“I didn’t know then whether I would ever be in the Test team. So then it just happened that we had a lot of craic in that midweek squad. It became clear who was going to be in the Test team at the start of it all.

“It looked to have been tougher for them. We were on a different bus even, we’d be pulling into training and they’d be pulling out. We’d have better craic warming up at training whereas with them it was straight down to business.”

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Sean Farrell

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