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'I'm very happy where I am' - Furlong plays down concerns over length of new contract

The tighthead finally agreed a new deal with the IRFU this week.

Tadhg Furlong is an official Vodafone Ambassador for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
Tadhg Furlong is an official Vodafone Ambassador for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

Updated May 12th 2021, 8:34 AM

TADHG FURLONG ENTERS the screen, sits down and pops in his wireless earphones. There’s plenty to discuss.

For a start, there is his remarkably smooth return to rugby following a lengthy spell out of action. In late January Furlong played his first competitive game for 11 months. A little over three months later, he was a shoe-in for the Lions. 

Furlong is on course to travel to South Africa as one of the first names on the teamsheet, a stand-out player in one of the most important positions on any team. 

His value to a squad is evident, and after months of negotiations Furlong finally put his signature to a new contract with the IRFU this week, with the deal confirmed on Monday.

The initial sense of relief which met that news quickly subsided upon the realisation it was just a one-year contract. Furlong is a player both Ireland and Leinster would love to tie down long term.

So, why didn’t they?

“I suppose the one-year deal probably suited me best for a number of reasons really,” Furlong explains.

What I would say is I’m very happy where I am playing rugby. I’m very happy in Leinster. I’m very happy in Ireland. I’m well looked after, not only in game management but my relationship with physios, coaches, how we want to play… There’s a good group of us now who came through the academy together and we’re getting to that 27, 29 to 30 age group bracket. 

“I’m very happy where I am. I signed (for) a year because it suited me more than anything really, and we’ll see where we are again next year.” 

While Furlong was reluctant to get into the ins and outs of the negotiations, or even the options that may have been available overseas – “I like to think of myself as a private person in that respect” – he did confirm the IRFU had proposed a longer contract than the one-year extension eventually agreed.

For Ireland and Leinster supporters, the concern is that this time next year Furlong will be considering his options again and could yet be tempted away. 

The player will hope he finds himself in a position to agree improved terms next season. That will involve many things outside of his control – the return of fans to stadiums and the money that pumps into the game, remaining injury free, staying in form. 

“Well, a lot of the lads have signed one-year deals in the current term, and it’s no different for them either, you know? I suppose there is the element of risk in it from my point of view in terms of injury or selection or performance, but you just have to get on with it, don’t you? If you start thinking like that (what may go against you), you’re in trouble.”

tadhg-furlong-tracked-by-billy-vunipola-charlie-ewels-and-mako-vunipola Furlong enjoyed a strong Six Nations with Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Furlong can be happy with his own performances, both Ireland and Leinster will look back on their seasons with regret. Ireland overcame a disappointing start to the Six Nations to secure a third place finish, while Leinster were outmuscled by La Rochelle in the last four of the Champions Cup.

However Furlong makes it clear he has no concerns surrounding the path either team are on.

“We’re there or thereabouts every year,” he says.

“Obviously, we had a disappointing Six Nations pre-World Cup, disappointing World Cup. But you get a sense of it. We’re there or thereabouts every year with Leinster. We’re competing, certainly in the Pro14 and at the business end of the Champions Cup and that’s where you want to be really.

“With Ireland, I think we’re getting there. I genuinely do. I have deep belief in that.”

With just 10 games under his belt this season for club and country, Furlong has already displayed signs of the world class talent who played such an important role for Ireland and Leinster in the years leading up to the 2019 World Cup.

A combination of injury issues and a global health pandemic wrecked his progress in 2020, but since coming back into the fold earlier this year there has been no evidence to suggest he has suffered from his time out of the game.

At 28, his prime years are still ahead of him. He’ll only be 30 come the next World Cup. A second Lions tour awaits this summer, with time on his side for a third. There is plenty of time to become an even greater force on the pitch, and that is what drives Furlong.

“I suppose it’s not being happy, isn’t it? I think that’s the theme of everything really, not being happy and trying to get better,” he continues.

‘Like, the game is moving just as quick as players are moving and players are pushing through, so I suppose it’s just trying to, not stay ahead of the curve, but trying to adapt and keep bringing on those fresh challenges for myself. 

“Before I was injured I thought I was in a really good place, playing those first three games of the (2020) Six Nations, some of the Champions Cup games for Leinster, post-World Cup, I thought I had myself in a good place. 

“There’s a few bits there that I want to bring back into my game. A little bit of defensive stuff, how much pressure can I put on opposition rucks, staying in the moment if there is an opportunity, not missing it, etc… So there’s loads of stuff there.”

Furlong is relaxed when the conversation turns to this summer’s Lions tour to South Africa, but admits he was “bricking it” when he tuned in to watch the squad announcement last Thursday.

Not long after the lucky few had learned their fate, the texts started landing. Some of those who missed out were among the first to get in touch, with Johnny Sexton, James Ryan and Garry Ringrose all firing Furlong a message of congratulations.

“I felt for the boys because I know they put so much into it,” he says.

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“I suppose I have Irish-tinted glasses on, you have so much respect for them and what they bring. Ultimately, it’s not my decision.

“It’s testament to their character, how they can bounce back that quickly because obviously I presume they were very, very disappointed. Sport can be cruel for those guys some times.”

Furlong was an instrumental part of Warren Gatland’s squad for the last Lions tour in 2017, starting all three Tests in New Zealand. He came back from that tour and embarked on the most successful year of his career to date. He was a rock of the Grand Slam-winning Ireland team in 2018, and soon followed that up with his first Pro14 medal and a Champions Cup title.

british-and-irish-lions-tadhg-furlong-after-the-match Furlong started all three Tests against New Zealand in 2017. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Later that year, Ireland took in a victorious tour to Australia and a first-ever home win against the All Blacks.

He thinks back to that first experience with the Lions and highlights it as a key moment in his development as a player.

“I think just experiencing a different viewpoint on rugby in some respects, with different coaches, the way the week is run, how to manage your week, because whatever conventional training week goes out the window when you’re in a Lions squad, because there’s two games every week.

“The training numbers are down, how you get yourself to that peak for the game, learning from other players and dealing with the pressures of big games. They’re big, big games on those Lions tours. I think there’s a lot in it.

“It is a very different experience. I think it’s just about getting back out there and embracing the challenge of it all. I suppose you put yourself under a lot of heat the last time, where everything was about performing and getting to that pitch on a Saturday.

“But I think when you look back on it you kind of wish that you enjoyed the middle part of the tour. The Test weeks are when it almost calms down a bit. They’re always enjoyable, the build-up etc, but the middle part and the front part, when it’s frenetic, I’m looking forward to hopefully enjoying that a little bit more this time around.”

“Tadhg Furlong is an official Vodafone Ambassador for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa. Download the official Lions app, powered by Vodafone to start your experience now” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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