Furlong still hasn't signed a new IRFU contract. James Crombie/INPHO

'He's such an important player' - Leinster hope Furlong deal will be done soon

The IRFU have been negotiating with the Ireland tighthead prop.

LEINSTER REMAIN HOPEFUL the IRFU can conclude contract negotiations with tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong to keep him at the province.

The 28-year-old Ireland international is due to be out of contract this summer, with IRFU performance director David Nucifora responsible for negotiating his new central contract.

It was expected that Furlong would be tied down to a new two-year deal without delay but it’s understood that negotiations haven’t been smooth. 

Last week saw Leinster confirm a raft of provincial contract extensions beyond the end of this season, as well as new IRFU central contracts for Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy, but Furlong’s name was conspicuous by its absence.

Asked for an update on the situation, Cullen indicated that it was out of his control.

“I can give you no clarity, no,” said Cullen yesterday. “I’m sorry, it’s a short answer!

“I’d love to say I can, but I can’t. Like all these things, these negotiations, they play out the way they do. I don’t have any clarity, unfortunately.”

However, Cullen did underline Furlong’s importance to the Leinster squad, with the province remaining hopeful that the IRFU can finalise the Wexford man’s new deal.

“Absolutely, he’s such an important player in the group, Tadhg,” said Cullen.

“You could see we missed him in the group, particularly that early part of the season. I think it was the same [for Ireland], the national coaches would probably say something similar as well. He’s made a big impact since he’s come back just before the Six Nations.

tadhg-furlong-michael-bent-and-andrew-porter-celebrate-with-the-guinness-pro14-after-the-game Leinster tightheads Tadhg Furlong, Michael Bent, and Andrew Porter. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“He had that 40 minutes against Scarlets and straight into the Six Nations and he had some big performances during the course of that tournament.

“But yeah, competition is good in that area.”

Leinster have announced the signing of a new tighthead ahead of next season, with current Crusaders prop Michael Alaalatoa due to arrive this summer.

The addition of the 29-year-old Samoa international has led to fresh talk that Ireland international Andrew Porter could move back to the loosehead side of the scrum, but Cullen indicated that the signing is more about Leinster losing stalwart Michael Bent this summer.

“Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong – regardless of where Andrew Porter plays – we’re missing those two guys for a massive chunk of the season,” said Cullen.

“There will be a development with a senior tighthead prop that has been in the group for a long time, so that will all play out in due course.

“It’s such an important position. There is a little bit of uncertainty with Vakh Abdaladze around his back, so it’s a position we value hugely.

“We have Tom Clarkson, who is out with injury at the moment and he’s still 21. We want him still playing for Leinster when he’s 35 years of age or even beyond, we want him playing for 12 or 15 seasons with the club.

“He’s someone we’ve invested a good bit of time in but I feel like we’ve almost had to push him a little bit too much at times this year. Over the course of the season, you want to strike that right balance because he is still a very, very young man. We want to bring these guys through so that they’re able to go on and play for Ireland. That’s a big part of the decision-making.”

michael-alaalatoa Michael Alaalatoa will join Leinster this summer. Pool Pictures / Phil Walter/INPHO Pool Pictures / Phil Walter/INPHO / Phil Walter/INPHO

Cullen also indicated that Leinster believe Alaalatoa, who has helped the Crusaders to three Super Rugby titles and a Super Rugby Aotearoa trophy, can be a good influence on younger Leinster players, particularly with Scott Fardy retiring this summer.

“Scott’s announcement last week, someone who brought a huge amount to the group in terms of bringing players on – we think Mike will be someone who can do something similar as well in terms of mentoring players, not just front rows but players in general,” said Cullen.

“I have had some very similar discussions with him. He’s coming from an environment that we respect greatly. I think there’s a lot of positive IP that we can get as a group here, so for that leadership piece in the group, it’s someone a little bit different in the environment.

“They’re all the bits we’re attracted to. I understand from the outside why people would question it. That’s positive that people are taking an interest in our group for the right reasons. I do think it’s important that we’re questioned like you are questioning but overall, I think it will be a positive addition to the group and someone who will add greatly to what we’re doing. Hopefully, there are enough positives in there.

“It’s a position we value strongly, as we saw ourselves the importance of the scrum when it comes to big days in particular [against Saracens last year]. We want to be involved in some of those big days.

“Mike understands the role he will play with the wider group and it’s something he’s used to with the Crusaders’ environment. There’s lots of positives for everyone.”

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