‘There’s nothing extraordinary here, just a humble farmer from Wexford’

IT WAS TADHG Furlong’s birthday yesterday and although he had a quiet day at home, he was hoping for a little surprise when he got back to Ireland’s team hotel last night.

Wednesdays are down days for Ireland during these big Test windows, meaning players can head home on a Tuesday night and get some time out of the intense bubble of Joe Schmidt’s camp.

Furlong turned 26 yesterday. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Furlong had someone in to install a bit of home security and went for lunch with a team-mate, but he kept the head down otherwise before returning to camp to continue the preparations for the All Blacks clash this weekend.

“I hope they have a sneaky cake for me,” said Furlong earlier this week. “I mightn’t eat it now, obviously, but if they brought me a Black Forest from that kitchen, I’d be incredibly happy.”

The simple pleasures in life. Furlong, who is now 26, deserves to pause for a second and celebrate, having already achieved so much in his still young rugby career. 

A Grand Slam, Champions Cup and Pro14 titles – it looks like Furlong’s list of honours will only grow in the years to come.

He firmly believes the best is yet to come.

“I suppose every player is different but before I play a team, I like to look back at the last three or four times I would have played against them, watch clips back,” said Furlong. “Some of those clips from 2016, you’re like: ‘Gee, what was I doing there?’

“Or you’re sloppy there or you’re slow to react, and sometimes it works the other way – you think, ‘That was really good, I went away from that.’ You can add that back into your game again.

“I think as a player, I’m a lot more comfortable in the environment, I’m definitely a lot more comfortable around the field; I’ve definitely improved a lot since then.”

Being a lot more comfortable in the environment invariably means being slagged a lot more, with Ireland captain Rory Best last week labelling Furlong a simple farmer from Wexford.

The Wexford man is heading into his prime. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Furlong is happy enough with the description.

“You can’t get slagged about something if it’s the truth, can you?

“I’m an open book. What you see is what you get, so there’s not much to delve much further into.

“There’s nothing extraordinary here, just a humble farmer from Wexford.”

Asked how he gets back at people like Best, Furlong smiles and insists “some of it’s not for the media, but it’s a bit of craic.”

Furlong is a popular member of the squad and part of the card-playing club, which Devin Toner looks to boss.

“The lads all play Gin Rummy and Bullshit,” said Furlong. “Maybe just put an asterisk on that. It’s not the one where you call, it’s hard to explain.

“Dev Toner, he’s like a giraffe just looking around and then he puts his card, he has this big obnoxious, plonks his arms on the table because they’re so long. He gets a lot of stick over it. He kind of makes his rules as he goes along as well, whatever suits him really.”

Though he’s good at switching off from the game, Furlong is among the most diligent players in Ireland camp too, as scrum coach Greg Feek mentioned recently.

He prepares studiously for each opponent and, naturally enough, the scrum takes a lot of his focus. 

Having helped Ireland to obliterate the Argentina scrum last time out, this week’s challenge against the All Blacks is very different in Furlong’s eyes.

Furlong is a student of the scrum. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“When you look at the scrum, you don’t really look at the front row, you look at the pack. There definitely is a different style of scrumming between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern… they’re big men, of course, but the cohesion they have as a pack, from a coaching point of view, it’s really good.

“They’re so solid on their entry all the time, particularly on opposition ball. The snap they generate is so strong, because they are so cohesive. Just look at it: their legs, boom, chase their feet, chase their feet.

“As a prop, you’re looking at it, thinking, ‘That’s so pretty, that’s good technique.’ That feeds into their front row, the amount of pressure they’re able to put against you.

“If you have any sort of a leaky joint, between me and the hooker, or between the hooker and the loosehead, or if chests are high… because they have that cohesion and power the water is going to break that leaky joint. That power is going to dissipate somewhere, and you’re in trouble.

“And they are holding the ball in at the back for longer than I would have seen two years ago or when I was looking at them for the Lions.

“They have that mindset where they are going after teams on opposition ball and they’re also trying to hold it in and get penalties on their ball.”

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While Furlong brings so much more to the game, his focus on the set-piece remains central.

No scrum, no win.

Furlong and the Ireland scrum had a good day last weekend. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Scrum, as a tighthead, it’s your bread and butter and I mightn’t be the flashiest scrummager or mightn’t be the most dominating scrummager at times but I feel like I can do a job there and it’s a massive test for me this weekend.

“It’s mad how much it affects your happiness if you win the game, it just nags at ya and I suppose it’s your source of pride, really, how the scrum goes. 

“There’s a lot more to the scrum than the tighthead and the front row and the back five, but as a tighthead you have to take a lot of responsibility for it.” 

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