Tadhg Furlong sidesteps barrage of praise as memories of Paris keep him grounded

Irish prop does not believe scrum battle will necessarily decide outcome against France

Tadhg Furlong has that mystified tone to his voice. There are people trying to flatter him again. All this admiring talk of sitting down defenders with his passing and his playmaking makes him want to reel it in.

Furlong talks and sees the game with an uncomplicated eye and with a determination not to find complexity where there is none, or, get too far out over his skis that he may fall over.

How he is playing at the moment would put him among the top props in world rugby. There is nothing simple about that. But just don’t say it to him. As he sees it, anyone can do some of the things he does during a match. The issue he sees is being able to execute them well, or, in front of 80,000 people this weekend in Stade de France.

“Ah look, I don’t probably view it as sitting defenders down,” he says. “I’m just playing the game, to be honest. Like ‘rugby player passes the ball’. Look, I’ve been playing rugby since I was four or five, so I’d want to be able to pass the ball a metre, wouldn’t I?

“Anyone can do it really, but the trick is to do it well. If you can do it at the line and sit down defenders etc, etc, there is a knock-on effect. There is a little bit in it, you’re just trying to get a nice catch and try to stay square really. If the right option is to tip it on the inside or outside or carry yourself, you have to be able to do that too.”

While it’s not the most glamorous of contests, the scrum will determine the mood in Paris. In 2016 the French murdered the Irish scrum under the posts. It was a chastening experience that Furlong as a 23-year-old remembers but does not care to dwell on for too long.

It was also the match in which Johnny Sexton was the victim of an off the ball hit by Yoann Maestri early in the game. A repeat of that can be expected, a la Josh Adams last weekend for Wales.

The introduction of props Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous five minutes after the break in the 2016 game was central to France's second-half comeback as the absence of Mike Ross and Cian Healy began to impact on the Irish team.

Nathan White, captain Rory Best and Jack McGrath started the match that day with Richardt Strauss, James Cronin and a young Furlong among the replacements.

“I don’t want to blow it up too much either because it’s not as if we conceded penalty tries or anything,” he says. “The scrum pretty much collapsed on to the ground and the ref pinged us but the scrum is such a personal thing to a frontrower. It’s the most important thing.

“Everyone talks about everything else, this and that, but if you can’t scrummage you’re no good to anyone. It’s your primary job. If it doesn’t go well it’s a tough day. I always say that scrummaging is the best thing in the world if it’s going well but by God you’ll stay awake at night when it doesn’t.”

It is too simplistic, he says, that whoever wins the frontrow battle will win the match. He points out that neither frontrow might win and also to the maul and to the ruck. There are too many other areas. Sexton’s last-ditch drop goal in the rain, who saw that coming?

But he concedes that if himself, Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher get it right on the day, it will put a serious mark on the game and perhaps the outcome too.

“With me, Ports and Ro, we haven’t spent massive amounts of time in the saddle together, know what I mean,” he says. “It’s about trying to get on to the same page, finding a solution in game, that kind of stuff. It’s just trying to get that cohesion and stuff, we’re spending a lot of time on that at the minute, we’re figuring each other out.

“Scrummaging is a funny aul thing in terms of your feel. You have to feel right going into it, and if it’s a little bit off, it can be a bit shaky, stuff like that. That’s a lot of the time and effort at the minute, trying to work with your back five and bring it all together, know what I mean? It’s not a one-man thing, it’s just not.”

Ireland will be hoping the ‘aul feel’ is with them. The art of the scrum and feeling right for it, seems as good a description as binds and body position. Either way a match outcome could ride on it.

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