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'I've been taken massively outside of my comfort zone,’ says Tadhg Furlong

The Ireland prop didn’t anticipate becoming part of the team’s leadership group but is beginning to find his voice.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

AT SOME POINT over the next 24 hours, Tadhg Furlong will be asked to stand in front of the rest of this Ireland squad and inspire them with words not just actions. 

It is still something he is getting used to, this unexpected promotion to the cabinet table, where he is one of six voices in the team’s leadership group.

“It’s very, very new to me in a lot of respects,” Furlong said. “Some of the stuff takes me massively outside of my comfort zone – like when you are talking up in a group. If the subject was the scrum, well you always feel comfortable there because it’s what you have been doing for years. But some of the other things – the really cultured bits about what we stand for as a group – I find really uncomfortable.

tadhg-furlong Furlong has been thinking of ways to add to the team's culture. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“That sort of thing really challenges my thinking but the thing is that Andy wants the players to really lead (this team) and take ownership of it. I like thinking about the game, I probably think about it too much sometimes, and you know it’s also nice to have that responsibility.

“I won’t pretend I wasn’t apprehensive about doing it because you are putting yourself out there. It’s good for me in some ways to be thinking about something other than fixing a scrum when I’m lying on my pillow at night.”

This week he has had to think about both – Ireland’s scrum getting penalised a couple of times last week against Scotland, albeit in somewhat contentious circumstances.

As he spoke about the issue yesterday, there wasn’t much visible stress on Furlong’s face as he discussed their adjustments to a new system under John Fogarty, his old tutor from Leinster who was promoted to the Irish set-up after the World Cup. “There are easy fixes, small fixes that we can make (from the Scotland game),” Furlong said of the Irish set-piece. “Training has gone well this week and in any case, I don’t think we got blown back. It was a sideways shuffle or someone went down on one side or the other. I would like to think that we have a handle on it.”

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He talked about ‘being in a good spot’ with his form – which is as boastful as Furlong will ever get, cracked out a few well-timed jokes, answering a question about the issue of closing the roof at the Principality Stadium (for Ireland’s game in Cardiff last year) by pointing out that these things were above his head.

The injury that saw him hobble off the field last Saturday – ‘tight calves’ – has completely eased. That 77-minute-shift he put in last weekend against the Scots was his longest on the factory floor since the 2014/15 season when he played the entire 80 minutes on three occasions.

tadhg-furlong-leaves-the-field-with-an-injury Furlong hobbles off last Saturday with a calf injury. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Still, there’s a sizeable difference between lasting the distance in the Pro12 – as it was then – against Ospreys, Munster and Dragons and hanging on in there until last orders gets called in a Six Nations game. “Sometimes you are banjaxed and are happy to get off the pitch. Sometimes you are flying.”

By the 77th minute of last Saturday’s match he was praying for mercy, his suffering alleviated by a moment of levity when Andrew Porter arrived for a five-man line-out unaware of what his role was. “You’re alright Ports,” Furlong told him. “You’re not needed this time.”

It was just as well. It turns out Porter – who had a lengthy enough spell as an emergency loosehead last Saturday – hadn’t ‘done a rep at loosehead for lineouts’. This only dawned on him when Ireland had a throw, 30 metres from their own line. “We came out of the huddle and I could see Ports’ face going white. You could see him calculating, ‘What am I (supposed to be doing here)…’ It’s not a place you want to be in an international rugby match, 30 metres out from your own line, seven points ahead, it’s not great like!”

Porter’s constant presence with Leinster and Ireland has been great, though, for Furlong. That pressure has made a world class player even better. “The body feels good, the engine feels good, so it is good to have that sort of competition in the squad – yeah, I feel like I’m in a good spot.”

He gets the chance to prove it tomorrow.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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