prop life

Furlong focused solely on tighthead for World Cup this time around

The Leinster man also covered the loosehead side at the 2015 tournament.

NOW THAT HE’S ESTABLISHED as one of the best tightheads in the world, it would be easy to forget that Tadhg Furlong went to the last World Cup as Ireland’s versatile prop, covering the loosehead side too.

The Wexford man won’t have to worry about that possibility this time around as Ireland gear up for their trip to Japan, with Andrew Porter looking most likely to fill the role this time around – having only transferred full-time from loosehead to tighthead in 2017.

IrelandÕs  Tadhg Furlong Furlong at the 2015 World Cup. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Even aside from not having to work on both sides of the scrum in training, Furlong is in a very different position heading into his second World Cup.

“I was trying to force myself into contention in 2015,” says the 26-year-old after a training session with Ireland in Portugal.

“Looking back on this stage four years ago, I didn’t have a cap. I got my first cap in the second last warm-up game against Wales.

“Four years on, you hope you’re a little bit wiser and a bit more self-assured on where you are and what you can contribute to the team.”

As it transpired, Furlong didn’t have to play on the loosehead side at the last World Cup, featuring only once off the bench during the tournament as he got minutes in a win over Romania.

Despite the experience, Furlong hasn’t been giving Porter too much advice about working on both sides of the scrum in the build-up to Japan. Porter played 30 minutes at loosehead in the warm-up win against Italy two weekends ago, having started the game at tighthead, and Furlong feels he is well up to the task.

“He has a lot more experience at loosehead than what I did. It was my second cap when I came on at loosehead against England [in the 2015 warm-up games].

Tadhg Furlong Furlong in is in Portugal with Ireland this week. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“He knows what he’s doing a bit more at loosehead than I do. I’ll probably leave that to Church [Cian Healy], Jack [McGrath] and Killer [Dave Kilcoyne] giving him tutorials.”

Focusing firmly on the tighthead side, Furlong has been getting to grips with World Rugby’s new scrummaging law, which aims to end ‘axial loading,’ whereby hookers or props have been leaning their heads onto opponents’ shoulders before the ‘set’ call.

Curiously enough, there have been several examples of referees ignoring the issue in recent weeks in the Rugby Championship, but Furlong says Ireland are aiming to be squeaky clean.

“We’re taking the law by the letter,” says the prop. “We’re planning for that, we’re scrummaging to the letter of the law. It will be interesting to see how this law change develops over these few weeks and into the World Cup as well.

“I haven’t played the games yet but the way we have been training is to the letter of the law – ear to ear, a strong bind, people tend to have their feet under them more, whereas before you would have seen second rows coming up off two knees and it was nearly a head-pushing contest on other peoples’ shoulders to see who would go forward.

“Once you have that little bit of go-forward before the ‘set’ call, it’s very hard to come back from it. Hopefully, it leads to a cleaner scrummaging contest and also a safer one.”

Keeping on the right side of referees will be an important factor for Ireland at this World Cup, with their focus on discipline having been so central to most of their biggest successes under Joe Schmidt.

Tadhg Furlong Furlong fires off a pass at The Campus. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Furlong is more than able to be part of an aggressive Irish scrum, though, and he is generally one of Ireland’s most important weapons, capable of carrying hard, passing accurately and being very mobile around the pitch.

Set to be a standout star in Japan, Furlong is also looking forward to a new cultural and culinary experience.

“I haven’t been to Japan,” says the New Ross RFC product. “I suppose I’ll get out and about and explore, some of the lads have been there before so hopefully we’ll get a few good tips from them.

“You’re thinking beef, really, aren’t you, with Kobe and Wagyu, and sushi as well.

“I wouldn’t be as big a sushi fan as Conor Murray, who seems to be in sushi restaurants three times a week but I’ll see what it’s like.”

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