Tadhg Furlong ready for unusual challenge of French scrum

Ireland tighthead rejects talk of feeling the pressure ahead of make-or-break match

Painful experiences tend to stay in the memory so when Tadhg Furlong was asked to dredge something up from last season's Six Nations Championship match against France in Paris he highlighted the game's defining play on the scoreboard.

The fact that it involved a scrum wasn't surprising because conversations involving a prop often involve a lengthy layover in this facet of the game. Ireland were leading 9-3 late on when France had a put-in to a scrum in the shadow of the Irish posts.

The ball squirted out, ruining any pre-planned gambit, but France were quicker to react, none more so than fullback Maxime Médard, who crossed for a try. The French prevailed 10-9. Furlong recalled: “Yeah [the match had] scrum after scrum and we got a good scrum at the end of it; the ball spurted out and they ended up scoring off it.

“It was challenging. I suppose I never felt something like that before, the way it [the pressure] was coming across from the tighthead and the hooker with the loosehead walking around. Castres scrummage in a very similar way.


Creeping up

“They probably wouldn’t have the personnel to execute as well as France do. But you see it creeping up and you learn from your experience. I suppose that’s all you can do really, learn your lesson. They [France] obviously have a huge amount of weight but the way that they scrummage isn’t something that you would see too often in the Pro12. It wouldn’t be the way that we scrummage.

“We just try to get good ball to play off really, try to paint good pictures for the referee and try to stay as straight as we can. We got a little bit of reward against Scotland and against Italy as well after putting them under pressure early. There is plenty still to work on and France are a bit of a different challenge in the way that they scrummage to Scotland and Italy.”

While on the topic of the scrum, Furlong chuckled on hearing that Ireland Under-20 scrum coach Conor Twomey had come up with a statistic that "62 per cent of responsibility for scrum stability comes from back five in the pack".

The 24-year-old considered the statement for a moment, before responding. “Sixty-two per cent seems pretty accurate! The back five look after us, we’re relying on them so much, just as a lineout caller or the jumpers rely on us to lift them and the hooker would rely on us to put them in the air as well.

Transfer that power

“The back five, there’s a huge amount of weight. Obviously if the frontrow isn’t in a good spot, their pushing power won’t be transferred into a good place. The responsibility of the frontrow is to get into a good spot and it’s their responsibility then to push hard and square to transfer that power.”

Furlong, one of Ireland's outstanding players this season, was asked about whether the players were feeling the pressure of winning what is essentially three cup finals if they are to sustain the ambition of winning the Six Nations title.

The short answer is, no. Nor are they considering the ramifications of a defeat on Saturday when weighed against the great expectations that the squad carried into the tournament.

There is no currency to be made in pondering the abstract; better to concentrating on the mechanics of performance. Get that right and everything follows nicely.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer