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Furlong 'in fantastic shape' as he gets set to return for Leinster on Saturday

The Wexford man is in line to feature against Scarlets this weekend.

Furlong is ready for his long-awaited comeback.
Furlong is ready for his long-awaited comeback.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

TADHG FURLONG IS set to make his long-awaited return to the game for Leinster this weekend against Scarlets after 11 months out of action.

The Wexford man last played in Ireland’s Six Nations clash with England on 23 February, 2020. He has been sidelined with back and calf issues since rugby resumed last August.

However, Furlong was named in Ireland’s 2021 Six Nations squad yesterday and is set to make his comeback for Leinster this Saturday away to Scarlets in the Guinness Pro14, the weekend before Ireland’s campaign begins in Cardiff on Sunday 7 February. 

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster confirmed that Furlong may even start against Scarlets if he comes through the remainder of this training week without any issues.

“He did a full [training] week last week, the Munster week, so it’s been a gradual progression,” said Lancaster yesterday.

“You don’t want to bring him back too soon, you want to make sure he’s 100% confident in himself and he’s ready to go.

“But I think he’s ticking all the boxes, so fingers crossed he gets through tomorrow and then we’ll know further. Wednesday’s off, we train Thursday and we fly Friday to Wales, play Saturday and then fingers crossed he’ll go well and into [Ireland] camp.

“Fair play to him, he looks in fantastic shape, he really does. 11 months, you can do a lot of work in other parts of your body and he looks in really good shape to me, so hopefully for Leinster and for Ireland there’s a great player coming back.”

Lancaster also eased fears that Ireland captain Johnny Sexton and wing James Lowe will miss Ireland’s opening Six Nations game against the Welsh.

Sexton suffered a hamstring injury during last weekend’s win over Munster and was replaced in the second half, while Lowe has been sidelined since Ireland’s autumn campaign due to a groin injury.

“I don’t think Johnny is too much of a concern, certainly I haven’t spoken to him today, they [the province's Ireland players] are not with us now, but I don’t think anyone should be too concerned about that,” said Lancaster.

“James Lowe trained during the latter end of last week with us fine, so I don’t think there should be any concerns with him in camp.

james-lowe James Lowe hasn't played since November. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

“I think he will be available for selection, he hasn’t played obviously but that’s down to the Ireland coaches to decide whether he’s ready to play, but he’s certainly training.”

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Lowe, Sexton, and Furlong were among the 17 Leinster players picked in Andy Farrell’s 36-man Six Nations squad, with the experienced Rhys Ruddock back in the mix for the first time since the 2019 World Cup.

“I think he’s earned the right and I think Rhys is another example of someone who slightly changed the way he worked in the gym, he worked on his strength and his power,” said Lancaster.

“His fitness has never been in doubt in terms of his aerobic capacity – he’d be one of our fittest back rowers – but I think the work he’s doing in the gym has paid off and his numbers have been excellent.

“In terms of contribution in games, if you look at tackles, breakdowns hit, tackles made and all three of those together, he’s usually at the top of the tree.

“So he’s been doing the hard yards and he’s been doing it week in, week out. He just benefited from a good run of injury-free rugby. Conditioning-wise he’s definitely made a couple of adjustments and he has earned the right, his leadership has been excellent as well so yeah, overall, it’s a positive for him.”

Lancaster pointed out that Leinster back rows Jack Conan and Dan Leavy – who were among those to miss out on Ireland selection – will benefit from a run of games with Leinster in the coming months. 

He feels the same applies to 21-year-old lock Ryan Baird, around whom there are high expectations but who is still looking to find form after recent injury issues. 

“He had a quad injury and then he missed a game with a head knock, so I just think they came at the wrong time and in that position, there’s pretty good players, really,” said Lancaster.

“Iain Henderson’s coming back, it seems like, and you’ve got James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne playing particularly well, both of them played well obviously at the weekend.

“Ryan’s definitely going to be in and around the Ireland squads in the future, for sure. Whether it’s this Six Nations, ideally yes, but if it’s not, this block will benefit him just playing week in, week out.

“So he’s a bit disappointed but realistically he knows he’s still a young lad and he needs to prove himself with Leinster first.”

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Murray Kinsella

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