Tadhg Furlong says French endgame showed Ireland's spirit
Result shows that Ireland ‘are going to work hard no matter how ominous the situation’
Rob Kearney and Tadhg Furlong celebrate Ireland’s dramatic late win over France in Paris. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
It’s happened to Ireland often enough for several of the current squad and those before them to feel they were due an Houdinesque-like piece of escapology of their own. In particular, Irish teams were victims of a last-play mugging by the All Blacks in Christchurch in 2012, courtesy of Dan Carter, and, of course, most memorably of all by the same opponents at the Aviva Stadium in 2013.
Steve Hansen hailed that latter 24-22 win, courtesy of a try by Ryan Crotty two minutes past the 80 minute mark and an ensuing retaken conversion by Aaron Cruden, for bringing a degree of endgame calmness to the All Blacks thereafter.
Tadhg Furlong is among those who believe the same might be true for this Irish squad. “Yea, I suppose it does. When your backs are against the wall the lads aren’t going to throw in the towel. They are going to work hard no matter how ominous the situation. There is belief there, that we have players of quality like Johnny [Sexton] who made the cross kick, Hendy [Iain Henerson] who took the restart and a lot of the carrying and rucking work that went in to it. If we are in that position again then we know that we can get out of it.”
Furthermore, in the contest of the Six Nations, winning is everything, not least in an opening game, away from home and especially in the Stade de France, normally Ireland’s bête noire.
“We could have played the best game of rugby or played really well and lost and that would have been gutting. When you look back on that game you will say that we won in France which is incredibly big, especially in the Six Nations. There’s definitely aspects of our game that we want to improve on but a win in an historically hard place for teams to go is very pleasing.”
All that said and done, there was a quick realisation that Ireland need to play better, and specifically make more use of such possession and territory. There were mitigating circumstances “It was hard. The conditions certainly won’t overly hectic,” said Furlong, who maintained that Ireland did create some space early in each half, but admitted: “Probably one area that we will have to improve on is that ruck and getting quick ball.”
He also maintains that Ireland’s attack game is evolving, albeit, “it definitely helps when you get quick ball, you’re able to play on that, and wherever the space is, we’re going to try to play to it. I’m a tight-head prop saying that,” he added, typically disarmingly. “You’d probably get a more accurate answer from a 9 or a 10, a game manager in that respect.”
Furlong’s own carrying and handling skills have given Ireland an added dimension that mightn’t always have been the case, with all due respect, when John Hayes and Mike Ross were locking the Irish scrum for the best part of 16 consecutive campaigns.
“Yea, but the game has moved on a small bit as well,” he counters. “You get those forwards who, if there’s space out wide, might play it back and then when you get to the edge, you suck in defenders. I wouldn’t say me or James Ryan are typical in the fact that we call that, we’re in position to carry and if the back sees space, they’ll trigger and we can play them the ball. We wouldn’t be the ones deciding that.”
First and foremost, like any tight-head, Furlong judges himself on his core work in the scrum. His performance in the set-piece last Saturday, when the French scrum clearly went after the Irish pack, amply demonstrated how much he has progressed since the Paris meeting two years ago, when he was winning his fifth cap off the bench in his rookie campaign.
“I think as a unit in the scrum we dealt with the French threat really well. If I was looking back at that 2016 game, my process of myself, my foot position, my bind has changed quite a bit. You can look back it now and reflect that I can be more consistent through it right now. I thought the weekend was very pleasing, although you don’t consciously think about it in the week building up to the game, but the last time you were here you were under pressure, it would be a fair reflection to say.”
For all these reasons and more, such as his mobility and tackling, Furlong has been liberally described as world-class and one of Ireland’s “indispensables”, which he also plays down.
“It’s flattering to hear, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t change how you prepare for a game and try to play. That outside stuff, it’s nice to hear, but it probably doesn’t seep into your mindset a massive amount.”