Furlong: 'Most defences are looking for two-man hits and it's very, very hard'

Tadhg Furlong takes prides in his ball-carrying and lineout involvements for Ireland.

BIG DOUBLE TACKLES have quickly changed the picture in rugby for ball-carriers like Tadhg Furlong.

Tasked with hammering at the defence off their scrum-half’s passes close in to attacking rucks, players like Furlong have a few tools they can use – their footwork, their fend and the ‘shape’ provided by players around them in a bid to distract defenders.

But even still, Furlong is often carrying into heavy, and viciously aggressive, traffic.

Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Italy's Leonardo Ghiraldini Furlong will hope for some big carries against France. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

The Wexford man has yielded a better return per carry as the Six Nations has progressed – averaging 1.2 metres across 13 carries in Rome last time out – but he is finding life demanding in the face of double hits around the fringes.

“It’s tough,” says Furlong of carrying the ball for Ireland. “A lot of the time, you’re carrying the ball, especially me, I probably wouldn’t carry or find myself in the wider channels.

“A lot of my ball-carrying is off nine. It’s a tough thing to do because a lot of the time, it might be off a kick [Ireland have received] and you’re trying to carry off a kick and you’re just trying to get back and [set-up for an Ireland] kick.

“And sometimes it’s not even about getting on the front foot, it’s trying to survive in those ones where they are going forward and flying off the line at you.

“But a lot of the time, it’s a lot of two-man hits. Most defences in world rugby nowadays are looking for two-man hits and it’s very, very hard.

“I don’t know if you’re marked men or not. That’s the way defences are going. It is becoming harder to carry, definitely.”

Furlong is reliant on those around him to make his life a little easier. The aforementioned shape is key, with Furlong usually carrying in the middle of a three-man pod of forwards.

Is the man outside offering a viable option for Furlong to tip-on a pass to? Is there an option on the inside? Is one of Ireland’s backs hovering out the back of the pod calling for a pass out the back door?

“There has to be options,” says Furlong. “The defence can’t be thinking, ‘Oh, he’s going to get the ball.’

Tadhg Furlong Furlong at Ireland training. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s something that we’re working hard on. It’s something that we do well, where you have those options either way. I suppose it is easier to play those options when there’s front-foot ball.

“Sometimes as a forward pack, I definitely feel myself, it is hard to make a metre-and-a-half without quick ball or that momentum in the carry.”

With some big guns returning to the Ireland pack for Sunday’s clash with France, there will be hope that Joe Schmidt’s team can generate more of that front-foot momentum with ball in hand.

There will also be an expectation that the linout functions far more smoothly than it did in Rome, when Ireland lost five of their own throws.

Sean Cronin has shouldered some of the blame in that regard, although Ireland insist his omission from their extended squad this week is down to a desire to build more depth by offering Ulster’s Rob Herring an opportunity to come into the mix.

Cronin did have two poor throws on the day but he is far from being solely at fault for the failings against Italy. Every single member of the Irish lineout looks at themselves after an underperformance, including tighthead prop Furlong.

“I suppose with all those things when you have a role in it you focus on your role – ‘How did I do? What was my job? How did I execute on it?’” says the 26-year-old.

“A lot of the time at the lineout, I’d be at the front in defence or at the back in attack. You have a job there to do.

“Even for the smallest jobs when you get your lift up, don’t break the 15-metre line [at the back of the lineout], which sounds like a small thing but the difference if we are playing off the top and I break the 15, it means [the defence] can automatically start closing in on that 10-metres [offside line].

Tadhg Furlong The 26-year-old is part of most Irish lineouts. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Small roles like that, you always look at that, you always look the quality of your lift, you always look at your footwork and how you get into the plant position to lift.

“There is so much to it. Like after the lift, how you transition from the lift into the maul position or if you are coming into the maul, there is that sort of second wave of players.

“What is your body height like? How much impact did you add to it? It is massively technical. My role is a tiny bit in the lineout, but I suppose you take pride in your work and how you do it.

“It’s something that we would recognise within a forward pack that maybe spectators and people looking at it probably wouldn’t understand the level of detail we put into it.

“In terms of lineout calling, the throw, where we try and win the ball, how we try to win the ball – it doesn’t affect me, I can’t contribute to that. I don’t call lineouts, I don’t throw a ball but what you do do, you try take pride in your work.”

Lifting at the front of a jumper or the back of a jumper are different roles for Furlong, who explains that the level of detail extends into the type of lift required at each lineout.

“There might be some lifts where you might have to hold at the top or a maul lift might be slightly different, you have to control the jumper in the air a bit more so he can come down in a stronger position.

“If you’re playing off the top, you might do a snappier movement but generally, rule of thumb, where you plant your feet and how you boost down into that and how you explode up is pretty simple.”

Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.

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