Wexford farmer Tadhg Furlong braces for the ultimate scrum test

‘I mightn’t be the flashiest scrummager, but I feel like I can do a job there,’ he says

Tadhg Furlong: “There’s a lot more to the scrum than the tight-head and the front row and the back five, but as a tight-head you have to take a lot of responsibility for it.” Photograph: Getty Images

Tadhg Furlong: “There’s a lot more to the scrum than the tight-head and the front row and the back five, but as a tight-head you have to take a lot of responsibility for it.” Photograph: Getty Images

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He seems to get a hard time, the simple farmer from Wexford. Even when describing him as one of the best tight-heads in the world at his pre-match captain’s run press conference last Friday, Rory Best noted how the Argentinian loose-head Santiago Garcia Botta would “want to make a name for himself and take this young, simple farmer from Wexford down a peg or two”.

Any chance Tadhg Furlong’s teammates get they seem to reference it but, of course, it all starts with the man himself, and he milks his reputation – whether completely natural or carefully honed – to the hilt.

“You can’t get slagged about something if it’s the truth, can you?” he maintains, smiling broadly. “I’m an open book. What you see is what you get, so there’s not much to delve any further into. There’s nothing extraordinary here, just a humble farmer from Wexford.”

Furlong was chatting on Tuesday, a day before his 26th birthday. At just 26, in theory Furlong’s prime should be ahead of him.

“I think it is. I suppose every player is different, but before I play a team I like to look back at the last three or four times I would have played against them, watch clips back, and some of those clips from 2016, you’re like ‘gee, what was I doing there?’ Or you’re sloppy there or you’re slow to react. And sometimes it works the other way, you think, that was really good, I went away from that. You can add that back into your game again.

“I think as a player, I’m a lot more comfortable in the environment. I’m definitely a lot more comfortable around the field; I’ve definitely improved a lot since then.”

The Lions tour fast-tracked his development enormously, and infused him with confidence as much as anything, he says, as well as being exposed to different coaches, players and environments.

“The other things that’s helped me is lack of injuries; touch wood. I’ve been blessed. I’ve had no really long-term injuries, being out of the game for the last 3-4 years.

Eight-man effort

For a tight-head the All Blacks are the ultimate scrum test. Furlong was outstanding on the Lions tour, starting all three tests, but there were still occasional scrums against them, and the Crusaders, when Furlong and Co were put to the sword.

The All Blacks scrum coach Mike Cron always emphasises that it is an eight-man effort, and Furlong says: “When you look at the scrum you don’t really look at the front-row, you look at the pack. There definitely is a different style of scrumming between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

“They’re big men, of course, but the cohesion they have as a pack, from a coaching point of view, is really good. They’re so solid on their entry all the time; particularly on opposition ball.

“The snap they generate is so strong because they are so cohesive. Just look at it: their legs, boom, chase their feet, chase their feet.

“As a prop you’re looking at it, thinking that’s good technique. That feeds into their front-row, the amount of pressure they’re able to put against you.

“If you have any sort of a leaky joint between me and the hooker, or between the hooker and the loose-head, or if chests are high, because they have that cohesion and power the water is going to break that leaky joint. That power is going to dissipate somewhere, and you’re in trouble.”

Furlong has also noticed that the All Blacks are keeping the ball in the back of the scrum longer in the pursuit of penalties.

Amazingly, the All Blacks have a 100 per cent return on their own ball since June, ie through the Rugby Championship and on this tour. And this is despite the 25-year-old Karl Tuinukuafe, who a year ago was a nightclub bouncer, being introduced along the way.  

“They are a top scrumming side. Look at their Super Rugby, their franchises all scrummage pretty similarly, so it’s interchangeable [in terms of personnel], and Mike Cron their scrum coach is massively influential in their scrum culture.”

Bread and butter

For all his ballast around in the loose, scrummaging is his bread and butter, much like a scrum-half’s passing.

“Yeah, set-piece is massive. Scrum, as a tight-head, it’s your bread and butter, and I mightn’t be the flashiest scrummager or mightn’t be the most dominating scrummager at times, but I feel like I can do a job there, and it’s a massive test for me this weekend.”

So if he makes a load of carries and tackles but loses a scrum it ruins his day?

“Yea, it’s mad how much it affects your happiness if you win the game. It just nags at ya, and I suppose it’s your source of pride, really, how the scrum goes.

“There’s a lot more to the scrum than the tight-head and the front row and the back five, but as a tight-head you have to take a lot of responsibility for it.” 

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