Tadhg Furlong keen to take Lions experience into new campaign

Leinster prop happy to spend career in blue and green as he enters contract year

Tadhg Furlong sizes up to the Springboks playing for the British and Irish Lions this summer. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

No British and Irish Lions squad of about 40 players will ever uniformly agree on how it all went. Different strokes for different folks.

Ever-presents in the Test team will be more positive than those on the fringes or outside altogether. In the absence of midweek games during the Test series and the restrictions caused by the pandemic, for the latter it must have been a very drawn-out experience.

"I really loved it," says Tadhg Furlong. "I have to say I enjoyed the experience more than I did in 2017. I thought the group was close. Everyone got on well. Maybe I was bit more familiar with it and I knew how it worked."

He missed what he calls “normal life stuff”, like going out for dinner or to a pub on a Saturday night, but says the management did “a great job of keeping everyone together, keeping everyone entertained”.


“Obviously, in the last three weeks I was in game mode. I understand for some people it could have been tougher because they weren’t playing. The boredom didn’t kick in for me.”

Results also dictate the tenor of the reviews and that third Test was one the Lions left behind, after they allowed themselves to compete in a war of attritional arm wrestling and kicking, before Finn Russell showed a different way, and as Australia have since shown.

“Yeah, but we won the first Test doing it,” counters Furlong. “Hindsight is as great as it is useless. First Test we went out with our game plan and we won. Very close at half-time in the second Test and ended up getting well beaten in the second-half.

“Going into the third Test we had planned to move the ball around a little bit more, get to the edges a little bit more, and by and large we did that. We played better rugby in the third Test but we didn’t win either. Granted if a few things went our way? But you can’t change that.”

The Lions scrum had their moments, and others where they struggled - which were more often when Furlong had been replaced for the final quarter.

But he doesn’t sound entirely happy.

“They’ve a big strong pack and it’s such a huge thing for them. The frontrow changed constantly, really. I’m not sure I had many goes with the same frontrow. There was always tweaking and that was a huge challenge. You never felt like you got into your proper rhythm, be it injuries or selection. I found that tough. I found scrummaging tough and I felt we held our own there without really getting a squeeze on.”

Furlong packed down alongside three different hookers in three warm-up wins, while in the Test series he was alongside Luke Cowan-Dickie in the first two and Ken Owens in the third, and three different loose-heads.

By comparison, in 2017 Furlong packed down alongside Mako Vunipola and Jamie George against the Crusaders and the New Zealand Maori, and all three Tests against the All Blacks.

While he says there was a lot of unseen work, “I probably didn’t get my hands on ball as much as I normally would in a blue or a green jersey, but you can’t be selfish around it, because there are so many good ball carriers on the team. So you’re not pushing people out of the way to get onto the ball. You have to play your part.”

Yet Furlong’s carrying and distribution is a huge part of his game, so you can’t but feel that the Lions could have used more of that.

He then had a “low-key”, five-week break, spending much of the time with his family on their farm in Wexford, with a little break in Croatia and also Whiddy Island with his grandmother. No big holiday abroad. “That would be my idea of hell.”

He was grateful for the initial five days’ quarantine to wind down mentally from the tour and re-acquaint himself with basics such as washing and cooking.

The five-week break was sufficient.

“You need to get back at it. You can’t leave yourself vegetating for too long.”

He feels good, albeit he is having a relatively short pre-season, and is at his fighting weight of 125-126kg.

“I feel aerobically fitter when I’m down to 123kg. But I’ve been 128-129kg, even 130kg, before and I feel stronger in the contact. The 125/126kg is the balance between the two,” says Furlong, who was speaking at the launch of Just Eat’s new partnership with Leinster Rugby.

For Furlong it’s not that he can just eat whatever he wants. “I see lads and they have to ram food down their neck to keep weight on, whereas I have the opposite. I have to really watch it, really be careful, otherwise I’ll just throw it on for the craic.”

He and Leinster are targeting the round four game at home to the Scarlets on October 16th for his seasonal return. Like his team-mates, Furlong is excited by the arrival of the four South African franchises into the United Rugby Championship.

“It was a big week for the club last week,” Furlong says of Leinster’s opening 31-3 win over the Bulls. “There was definitely a spike in physicality and maybe that’s something to do with the uncertainty of it.

“Obviously we know what Springbok rugby stands for: physicality and size and power. I think that’s very good for Leinster, facing that a few times a year for when it comes to playing big French teams and big English teams.”

Coupled with Leinster's bid for that fifth star, four Irish meetings with the All Blacks and the Six Nations, Furlong acknowledges this is a big season ahead. "There are big games everywhere you look." But he likes to look at it in blocks, beginning with this first one through to Christmas.

Furlong turns 29 in November, and trying to improve all the time is also why he plays the sport. There are, he says, lots of ways he can improve. That second Lions tour was a prime example.

“I couldn’t believe the amount of recovery which the English and Welsh lads were doing. Even from four years ago, it was on a different planet from what I’d ever seen before.”

“Just off the pitch, they had hot pod stretching, saunas into cold therapy, the way the masseuse worked over there, all the recovery tools and gadgets that they had on. A lot of the stuff was new to me but they knew what it was.”

Then there was defence, and ball carrying.

“In the video analysis. Courtney Lawes’s footwork before contact, the way he could draw in two defenders and slip a little pass away – really impressive. Stuff like that you try to learn and take on, bit by bit.”

He wants to further sharpen his option-taking and his handling game.

“That’s the one part of the game which is never a chore to me. I wouldn’t be the hugest lover of the gym. I have to push myself through gym sessions. It’s the playing of the rugby that I love.”

Furlong doesn’t know if this emanates from playing Gaelic football and travelling a less common path via New Ross and the Leinster youths’ rugby. He believes the pathway was better for him than Sean O’Brien, and it is better again now.

“But should rugby be all about the professional game? No, it should not be. People out there, from anywhere, should have access to a club. Rugby is for a different purpose in the clubs. It’s for the community, it’s for enjoyment, to play the game.

“You’re also competing with the GAA, whereas in Dublin by and large the kids from the rugby playing schools, all they wanted to do was play rugby.

Furlong watches players coming through, such as Irish under-20s lock Brian Deeny, who represented Wexford at minor level in Gaelic football and is now in the Leinster academy. “There’s Jamie Osborne from Naas and also Martin Moloney from Athy, or ‘Fishcat’. It’s getting there and Leinster are very diligent.”

Furlong has spent his entire career at Leinster, having “kicked the can” last season to focus on returning from injury before signing a one-year extension last May. If told he will spend the rest of his career with Leinster and Ireland, would he be happy?

“Yeah, I would be happy. You talk to other lads from other clubs, especially on Lions tours, and you’re like: ‘I wonder what it would be like there?’ Would I like to experience that, would I like to experience playing in France? And there’s definitely a part of me that would like to do that. When that is, or if that happens, who knows?

“But I love playing for Leinster, I love getting selected for Ireland. I’ve no immediate desire to change that, but it’s not as easy as that in professional sport sometimes.”

For the time being, it’s all about winning silverware.

“I think there’s definitely opportunities to do that with the player group we have. But it goes back to the Lions tour, you have to do it. And it’s bloody hard to do, because every club and team in Europe and the world wants to do the same, they want to win Europeans Cups, or Six Nations or the World Cup.

“It’s about doing it. It’s about actions.”

Just Eat is now the Official Food Delivery Partner of Leinster Rugby