IT’S A BIG day for New Ross RFC, as they get set to witness the homegrown Tadhg Furlong wearing Ireland’s green jersey against the Barbarians at Thomond Park.
It may not be a first cap for Furlong in what is a non-capped clash with the Baa-Baas, but it is the first playing involvement of what you’d have to think will be many for the tighthead prop with Ireland at senior level.
His old school in New Ross, Good Counsel, will share in the pride too, as might his former coaches in the Leinster Youths system and at Horsewood GAA club, for whom Furlong perviously stood out in hurling and football.
The 22-year-old is attached to Clontarf in Dublin now – though his Leinster duties mean club rugby is in the past for him – but Furlong hasn’t forget his New Ross roots. As much as time and the demands of a pro career allow, he gets back to visit ‘The Grounds’.
“Whenever I’m home, I usually do pop into the club,” said Furlong at Thomond Park yesterday. “Home is home and you can never forget where you’ve come from, so any chance I do get to go back to the club and see the younger lads especially in the club, it’s really enjoyable.
During the season, you’re up to your eyeballs with matches so it makes it hard and you’re talking around two hours 20 minutes of a drive, so you’re looking at almost 5 hours in the car in total, which probably isn’t the Mae West for recovery!”
Indeed, it’s the Wexford contingent who will be doing the travelling ahead of this evening’s Barbarians tie in Limerick. Furlong’s family will be in Thomond Park for what he hopes himself and his Ireland teammates ensure is “a good day out.”
The Leinster man has had his head down since joining up with Joe Schmidt and the rest of the group earlier this week, his characteristic approach.
“I suppose there’s a lot of new faces in the whole thing, so we’re trying to knuckle down and get our plays right, get the whole system right,” says Furlong of an Ireland squad made up exclusively of Ulster and Leinster players.
“Learning the new shapes is like learning a new language essentially. It’s been good, it’s been a lot to get your head around but we’re really looking forward to it.”
It’s not Furlong’s first involvement under Schmidt by any means, having been called into camp during the week of the November Test against Georgia last year, and then being involved at Carton House during the last two weeks of this season’s Six Nations.
His role in that success mainly involved providing opposition for the established first team, “just prepping up the lads” for the clashes with Wales and Scotland.
That experience has stood him in good stead this week, while he’s also had the opportunity to renew a strong relationship with Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek, who previously performed the same role with Leinster when Furlong was breaking through.
We call him the ‘Scrum Daddy,’ the daddy of the scrum,” explains Furlong with a smile. “All the scrum work I’ve done through the Leinster academy and right into last year would have been all done through Greg.
“I suppose I know his model or how he wants to scrummage really well and I know what he expects of the tighthead prop and the front-row unit. I’ve a really good understanding and rapport with him, so it’s been good to touch base with him as well.”
The presence of provincial teammates Richardt Strauss and Jack McGrath alongside him in the front row builds the confidence, according to Furlong, but he’s clearly a man fully comfortable that his own ability is sufficient to excel this evening.
That assurance comes after a busy season with Leinster, one that saw him push Mike Ross out of the matchday squad at one point.
“I suppose if you said to me at the start of this year that I’d play 26 games, I would have told you to hit the road,” says Furlong. “I suppose I was lucky with injuries to Marty Moore, both his shoulders, I got a bit of an extended run in the squad. I found my feet as the year went on and I grew more confident in the role.
I was happy from a personal point of view. Obviously from the team, we didn’t reach the highs that we wanted to but I suppose you have to take it as a learning curve.”
The sense is that Furlong is viewing everything through that same prism right now: as a learning curve. He’s already at an impressive level for his age and position, but his thirst to improve is partly why his reputation among coaches is so strong.
The sky seems the limit, and you wouldn’t put it past Furlong to end up travelling to compete with Ireland in altogether more prestigious games this September and October.
“I think the World Cup is a bit far off yet,” says Furling. “I suppose I have a good opportunity to be in the shop window [against the Barbarians] and I’m just really looking forward to being out there.
“I haven’t played a massive amount of rugby in the back end of the season, so it’s about putting my foot in the door and showing them what I can do as part of the team.”
- Originally posted at 07.00, updated at 19.00.