Tadhg Furlong eager to rediscover that winning feeling
Defeat to Australia last week proved a bitter pill – although it was his first loss in 24 games
Tadhg Furlong: “Individually we have to turn up more than we did at the weekend.” Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
As with others in this Irish squad, Tadhg Furlong had not known what it was like to lose all season, which was particularly remarkable in his case as he’d played 24 games prior to last Saturday’s first Test defeat.
Akin to Johnny Sexton, Furlong hadn’t been on a losing team since the Lions’ first Test defeat to the All Blacks in Eden Park. It’s said you learn more from your defeats than your wins and to some extent Furlong concurs.
“I suppose in a strange way and not trying to be arrogant, you kind of forget what losing feels like. It’s gut-wrenching, horrible and it gives you a perspective to knuckle down and go again and go hard because it’s just not a nice feeling to have.”
Sexton doesn’t quite go along with that.
“No, but maybe I’ve lost more than Tadhg. He’s still relatively young and won the majority of games he’s played. I’ve been through the years that we didn’t win a lot so I know the other side and maybe I wouldn’t have taken it as much for granted as some of the others.”
At least the memory of that Lions series, when they won the crucial second Test in Wellington, provides a positive reminder.
“I think you have to look and be honest with yourself,” says Furlong. “You have to put your pride to one side and look at where we were at, at the weekend, and our usual standards and where we want to go to as a group – try to massively buy into that and then it comes down to individuals fitting within that.
“What you learn from the Lions is that the physicality has to be there at the weekend and then turnovers, our penalty count, stuff like that has to come back into line. Individually we have to turn up more than we did at the weekend.”
Furlong continually references “learnings” and he has some from last week’s defeat, not that the scrum penalty from which Bernard Foley nudged Australia in front entering the last ten minutes was necessarily his fault.
He would be “hesitant” to call as illegal the Wallabies slanting their scrum onto the Irish tight-head side then and for much of the game.
“For me I thought we definitely had better shape through entry. I felt a lot of weight coming from the left, their hooker broke my left shoulder bind and then from there it kind of, what’s the best way to describe it?” He mimics a scrum by interlocking the first three fingers of each hand and points to the point between the tight-head and hooker.
“It’s like a dam, you think of all the pressure points in a scrum, and if there’s a weak spot there and it blows all the water will come rushing through it. That’s where the energy goes and to be fair they had really good snap on their ball, a lot of weight coming across.
“Again, without sounding arrogant it probably doesn’t happen all that often so you have to learn from it. You wear it as a tighthead, as a front row, as a scrum but I suppose you don’t bear on it too long. You try to look at it coldly and then it’s ‘how do we fix this?’ You can’t dwell on these things in a three-game series. It’s game two, try to fix things and go forward.”
It’s remarkable to think that Furlong only made his full Irish debut in the corresponding second Test this week two years ago in South Africa. After a full season with Leinster and Ireland, and a Lions tour in which he started all three Tests, Furlong maintains he has been suitably refreshed by timely weekend respites and he reckons he’s had fractionally less games and minutes prior to this season’s summer tour than a year ago.
In fact, he had the same number of games in both instances, 24, albeit he’s started more this season but has had fractionally less minutes over the course of the regular campaign (1,417 minutes last season, 1,369 minutes) before last Saturday.
This is also less than Munster’s three Lions played prior to Saturday’s first Test, namely Conor Murray (1,695 minutes over 24 games), Peter O’Mahony (1,608 minutes over 23 games) and CJ Stander (1,792 minutes over 25 games).
By contrast, despite having played no Test rugby, the Munster-bound Tadhg Beirne arrived on tour having played 2,184 minutes in 31 games for the Scarlets.
Of course, for many in this squad, save for a seasonal opener, virtually every game has been an interpro, European Champions Cup match or international, and since the Six Nations, there have been four or five big knock-out games for the Leinster/Munster core.
Furlong maintains he is still mentally fresh and hugely motivated, as are his team-mates.
Only next Saturday’s second Test in a 30,000 sold-out AAMI Park will tell, but perhaps also the relatively unique challenge which defeat has now provoked will also revive them.
“From my perspective anyway, what’s happened has happened. You want to know why it’s happened and how you can fix it. I suppose in rugby we’re lucky where every weekend nearly is constant: you perform, the review happens straight away and then you’re on to something else.”
“There’s not much time for self pity or wallowing, you have to get up and get on with it, especially on a three-game tour. There’s just no time to wallow. You have to recover, get your body right and mentally get back on the horse.”
And therein lies the key.