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Dublin: 2 °C Wednesday 23 January, 2019

Stuart Lancaster got Tadhg Furlong believing he could be a Lion

The 24-year-old tighthead is ready to take on the All Blacks at fortress Eden Park.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

TADHG FURLONG’S OLD man, James, still hasn’t given into the pressure and bought a mobile phone but the Lions prop doesn’t need a text or call from home to know how proud his father is.

The 24-year-old’s remarkable rise has continued with his selection as the Lions’ starting tighthead for Saturday’s first Test against the All Blacks, and Furlong himself is proud of where he has come from.

British and Irish Lions Tadgh Furlong during the training Furlong is set for his Lions Test debut on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

His father is a former prop with New Ross RFC and Furlong understands what it will mean when his parents arrive in New Zealand before the second Test.

“My dad has still actually not got a mobile phone, which I think he’s pretty happy about,” said Furlong with a laugh today in Auckland.

“My parents are coming over next week so I think Mam has got her head around roaming at the minute, and hopefully I’ll be able to contact her, all going well.

“It’s a proud moment but you’d probably never get that out of the auld fella though, just screaming down the phone. He probably can’t hear too well!

“But yeah, look, it’s massively proud for them, especially my father, who would have supported and follow rugby for a very long time.”

They’ll be beaming with pride around New Ross RFC on Saturday, and the feeling will be the same in Furlong’s old school Good Counsel, his second club Clontarf, at Leinster and in the Ireland squad – all of whom helped him along the way.

There will be big support from Whiddy Island too, his mother Margaret being from there.

Establishing himself for Leinster and Ireland was one thing, but Furlong now heads into the upcoming Test series with the potential to have a major impact on the outcome. His class is clear, but he wasn’t even thinking about the Lions a year ago.

Furlong says he came away from Ireland’s tour of South Africa last summer with his confidence improved, having started the second Test, while the November Tests were crucial for furthering that belief.

Tadhg Furlong tackled by Tawera Kerr-Barlow Furlong is a key man for the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But it was the influence of a new face at Leinster this season that had Furlong genuinely thinking about the Lions for the first time.

“I think the real moment of focus for me this year was when Stuart Lancaster came into Leinster,” said Furlong. “Obviously he would have worked with a lot of players in different environments, and a lot of players who are here on tour.

“We basically had a one-on-one, where we sat down and he said, ‘From what I’ve seen, you can really push on and try to aim to be a Lion this year.’

“At first, I was like, ‘Jeez man, what are you saying, like?’ You probably didn’t see yourself in that picture but he probably backed you and I suppose gave you a focus and goal to drive towards.”

Furlong is in a very different place in terms of his belief about belonging on this stage now, and his two experiences of facing the All Blacks in November with Ireland are valuable.

Before that month, he admits to a sense of the unknown heading into his first meeting with a team Ireland had never beaten. Now he appreciates what is required.

Not that it makes it any easier for Furlong. While much is made of the All Blacks’ attacking brilliance with ball in hand, he is more concerned about their scrummaging prowess.

“It’s definitely right up there,” says the Leinster tighthead. “I think their strength is, massively, their collective.

Tadhg Furlong Furlong has been in fine form in New Zealand. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You can see on opposition scrum ball the cohesion they have as a pack, their timing on ball entry to get a really strong snap, from a coaching point of view and technical point of view, it is perfect.

“So from us looking at that, technically, physically and emotionally we’re going to have to be right at the top of our game to match it.”

But Furlong believes the Lions’ front row have built an understanding of what each of them wants at scrum time, how they like to attack opponents or deal with pressure coming on them.

Furlong’s abilities are not limited to the set-piece in the slightest, of course, and his all-action game will be pivotal if the Lions are to win in Eden Park.

Watching on from home, all in his village of Campile and further afield will be following passionately as Furlong takes on the ultimate challenge.

“It probably doesn’t get any bigger than the All Blacks in Eden Park, to be fair.

“We’ve prepped well as a team and we have a session this afternoon as well to keep going at things and perfect little things we want to perfect, so I’m looking forward to what is a huge challenge.

“But these are the sort of days that you play rugby for.”

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Murray Kinsella

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