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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO Furlong during last weekend's first Test.
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Furlong and the Lions pack set for another Rumble in the Jungle
The Irish tighthead was pleased with his side’s set-piece effort in the first Test.

LAST WEEK IN the build-up to the Lions’ first Test against the Springboks, Warren Gatland and his coaches used ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman as a theme in their camp. 

The connection here was that the Lions wanted to drain the energy out of the Springboks before finishing them with a killer blow like Ali had done to Foreman.

Assistant coach Gregor Townsend spoke about the theme on an Inside The Tour podcast this week in aid of the My Name’5 Doddie charity for research into Motor Neuron Disease.

It was a simple, clear message for the Lions players and it’s very easy to see how it played out on the pitch last weekend. The tourists had to absorb plenty of punches from the Boks in the first half as they went 12-3 behind but they sapped energy out of the South Africans and finished over the top of them.

“It was about staying in the fight pretty much and when you get a chance, to throw your punches and make them count,” said Tadhg Furlong of the Lions’ theme.

The Ireland tighthead prop was a key part of the effort, playing until the 67th minute before making way for Kyle Sinckler. Furlong would have enjoyed getting more than his five tackles and five carries but he was busy in the set-piece.

Gatland’s side intelligently kept their kicks infield to deny the Boks the kind of mauling chances they thrive on, while the Lions scored their only try of the game from a maul early in the second half, sparking a hearty celebration from Furlong.

“It was a big moment, it was very early on in the second half, chasing that lead, it was good to get a try that early on and I was excited.”

Indeed, the set-piece was a crucial battleground and it took time for the Lions to get on top across the board.

“They only had three or four lineouts really, so we didn’t really have to face off to their maul a massive amount,” said Furlong. “We did fairly well on our ball bar a few boo-boos here and there in the lineout. 

tadhg-furlong Dan Sheridan / INPHO Furlong at Lions training this week. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I thought we got into the scrum quite well. They kind of caught us early on but I thought we problem-solved quite well on the pitch. Towards the end of the first half, I thought we had a bit of a squeeze on.

“Fresh front row in the second half but towards the end of the second half, I thought the lads who came off the bench for us had a bit of a squeeze as well.”

“It’s a huge challenge and a huge part of the game for them and for us this weekend.”

There’s no doubt that scrum, lineout, and maul will be crucial again tomorrow, when Kiwi referee Ben O’Keeffe has the unenviable task of making the big calls after a week in which Rassie Erasmus has explosively criticised first Test referee Nic Berry.

The Boks have brought Steven Kitshoff in at loosehead for the injured Ox Nché, while Frans Malherbe starts at tighthead, with the “strong, strong scrummager” Bongi Mbonambi retained as the starting hooker.

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Furlong knows there’s another hugely demanding evening ahead for the Lions tomorrow at scrum time and in all areas of the game as the Boks fight for their lives in this series.

“It’s do-or-die, isn’t it?” said Furlong.

“I was part of a [Lions] group four years ago that would have had a similar mindset going into a second Test after losing the first [against New Zealand].

“It’s do-or-die and it means so much for players on our side and players on their side and everything they have achieved. Everything is on the line.”

Another Rumble in the Jungle awaits.

- This article was updated at 8.25am to correct ‘openside’ to ‘tighthead’ in the 15th paragaph.

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