'I have grown a lot from where I was but there's still a long way to go. I'm still learning'

Complacency isn’t part of Tadhg Furlong’s DNA as he prepares to face the Springboks on Saturday.

OF ALL THE scenes in the soon-to-be-released Lions DVD from the summer tour of New Zealand, the verbal confrontation between Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath during a scrummaging session stands out.

Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath Furlong and McGrath during the Lions tour in New Zealand. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

McGrath took exception to a shove from the other side of the scrum and Furlong, in protesting his innocence, got drawn into a momentary spat. Tempers flared, but that was the extent of it.

“Yeah, that happens every now and then,” Furlong says, before revealing his surprise that the clip had made it into the fly on the wall documentary.

“I didn’t know that made the video. Have you lads all seen a preview of it? How come the players didn’t get one?

“Look, it’s confrontation isn’t it? It’s full bang. It’s full on and sometimes it does get a little bit heated but it is left there. Do you know what I mean? It’s just lads fired up and physically going after each other.”

Training or not, life in the front-row is a heated battle.

The competition is fierce and that physical edge, even between team-mates, is what’s required in a Test week. We just don’t see it most of the time.

“Training has been pretty feisty and the scrums have been pretty full on,” Furlong says of the last few days in camp at Carton House.

It needs to be. The Springboks are in town, battle-hardened from their Rugby Championship campaign and their coach, Allister Coetzee, now entering do-or-die territory.

Furlong knows what’s coming down the tracks on Saturday, not least because his first Test start came against this weekend’s opponents 17 months ago.

His development into one of the best tightheads in the world since then has been rapid, with the 24-year-old’s stock rising immeasurably on the back of imposing performances in blue, green and red.

Yesterday, Tendai Mtawarira, South Africa’s aptly named ‘The Beast’, described Furlong as the best tighthead in this hemisphere. High praise, indeed.

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Tadhg Furlong The prop is expected to win his 17th Ireland cap this weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But still, the suggestion his place in Joe Schmidt’s front-row is set in stone for this weekend makes the Wexford native a little uneasy. Complacency is not part of his DNA.

“At 24, a tighthead prop you are never done learning,” he insists.

“Cian [Healy], Jack [McGrath] and Dave Kilcoyne, I would be coming up against as a tighthead. Each of them have their own little kinks, what they like to do and one is not easier to scrummage against than the other. And if you look at Leinster, the two lads have been going neck and neck and I think Dave has been really impressive for Munster as well.

“Even from a tighthead point of view, John Ryan is scrummaging really well and Andrew Porter he’s physically a very impressive athlete. He’s still young, still a bit to learn but the rate of his progression having seen him switch from loosehead to tighthead has been really impressive. I have no doubt that he is going to be a top, top international player.

“When you throw that all in, it definitely doesn’t pick itself.”

That said, Furlong does concede his experience on tour in New Zealand naturally engenders an added level of confidence.

“I think confidence wise, you know you can mix it with the best of them,” he continues.

“Being part of the Lions tour, so iconic, and it is such a privilege and an unbelievable enjoyable experience, and from a confidence point of view knowing that you can play well, play well enough to be starting tighthead for the Lions. It is starting to try and keep up those standards you try to hold yourself to day in, day out and keep working hard.

“Last year was a big year for me in learning from experiences, new things, new challenges along the way. I was pretty happy with how the season went.

“I suppose the challenge this year is stay at it and keep working hard and doing your job and not getting ahead of yourself. From an experience point of view I think I have grown a lot from where I was on that tour [in South Africa].

“I would say I still have a long way to go, I’m still learning.”

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