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'That competitiveness between two world-class tightheads is great'
Leinster prop Tadhg Furlong is close to returning from a minor back issue.

AS LEINSTER GOT into an enjoyable tussle with Munster on Saturday night, we can be sure that Tadhg Furlong was wishing he was out there.

While several of his team-mates got to play for the first time since Ireland’s defeat to England in February, the tighthead prop was watching at home after being ruled out with a back issue.

With Andrew Porter having excelled in a strong scrummaging performance from Leinster and with knock-out rugby only around the corner, Furlong will certainly be keen to lace up his boots and get stuck in very soon.

andrew-porter-and-tadhg-furlong-celebrate-after-the-game Bryan Keane / INPHO Porter and Furlong are two of the best tightheads in Ireland. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The Wexford man possibly could have played last weekend but Leinster assistant coach Robin McBryde explained that they didn’t want to be foolish by sending out players with niggles after more than five months without rugby.

Instead, Furlong may make his return against Ulster on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium as Leinster finish their Pro14 regular season campaign.

“It was just precaution, he had a twinge in his back really,” said McBryde yesterday. “We didn’t want to risk rushing him back for the game so he’ll be up for selection this week.”

Getting a niggle just before the start of any campaign is frustrating but all the more so for Furlong after such an extended break. The tighthead had put down a strong pre-season but will now hope to get out of the blocks quickly – eager to surpass the standard fellow Ireland international Porter set last time out.

“He’s been training well,” said McBryde of Furlong. “He had a little niggle with his calf but he was building up for the game lovely and he just had that spasm in his back that set him back a bit. He’s chomping at the bit, especially after the game on Saturday where Andrew scrummaged particularly well, the scrum went well for us.

“Tadhg will be keen to get out there and prove himself as well and get to that standard and look to raise it. To have that competitiveness between two world-class tightheads in the same position, that’s great.”

Furlong has been part of Ireland’s leadership group since Andy Farrell took over following last year’s World Cup and McBryde says the prop’s appetite for getting better is infectious around Leinster too.

“I can only speak from my personal experience working with him here and he’s always keen, always knocking on my door with regards to ways he can improve,” said McBryde.

robin-mcbryde Morgan Treacy / INPHO Leinster assistant coach Robin McBryde. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“He’s always keen to give advice to the young tightheads coming through as well, Tom Clarkson, etc. It’s all positive, a good team man and I enjoy working with him as well.”

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If Furlong does return this weekend, it will be as part of a very different Leinster team, with Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster set to name a completely new XV for the clash with Ulster.

From a collective point of view, McBryde was happy with Leinster’s effort at scrum time last weekend but pointed out that their lineout work is among the factors that need to improve this weekend.

“The contact area was another one,” said the Welshman. “Munster targeted our breakdown pretty heavily with a lot of numbers, they caused us some difficulty there.

“So, irrespective of what the team is going to look like, there are certain things that we need to get right in terms of our attack shape, in the way we exit, in our lineout game.

“The focus is on getting those areas right, really, and improving on the performance on Saturday.

“We’ve gone so long without having a game, without having anything to work towards and having to construct scenarios and coming up with ideas. We’ve actually got something to physically grasp now, something physically to work towards following that game against Munster.”

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