‘I was absolutely bricking it’ – Tadhg Furlong on waiting for Lions announcement

Ireland tighthead looking forward to enjoying the full tour this time around

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Four years ago Tadhg Furlong had just finished training along with the rest of the Leinster squad before they assembled in the canteen to watch the Lions squad announcement. Last Thursday was different. Quarantining in the Radisson hotel like all those who returned from La Rochelle, Furlong watched events unfold in his room.

Four years ago, then 24, Furlong went on to cement his status as a world-class tighthead by starting all three Tests against the All Blacks, so after his barnstorming return from injury this year, you’d have thought he’d have been relatively sanguine about his selection. Not a bit of it.

“Ah, I was bricking it. I was absolutely bricking it,” he cheerily admitted. “It’s hard to think what it was like four years ago because we were in Leinster in the canteen and you miss a lot of the build-up. We were training and you kind of just get to the names part whereas this time you were sitting down watching the intro and the whole build-up to it.

“I kind of had it in my head ‘right, if I’m going on this thing my name is coming out after Toby Faletau, on the alphabetical order jobby.’ Zander Fagerson came out and I was like: ‘Fa.., Fu..’ You’re doing all that stuff in your head and next thing you get called out and it’s just like: ‘Thank God’.”

“It’s a mad feeling. It’s class but then it’s so far away and you just don’t know what to think really.”

Sitting in their rooms, Garry Ringrose and James Ryan were among the first to text their congratulations, and likewise Johnny Sexton from his home.

“It’s testament to their character because obviously they were very, very disappointed. Sport can be cruel some times. I felt for the boys because I know they put so much into it. I suppose I have Irish-tinted glasses on, you have so much respect for them and what they bring. Ultimately, it’s not my decision.”

Against that, Robbie Henshaw, Jack Conan and Furlong’s fellow tighthead Andrew Porter were all named.

“It’s class for him [Porter], and the work he puts in and the transition from loosehead to tighthead, how he looks after himself and how he has played, he’s fully deserving of it.”

Tadhg Furlong pictured during Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Exeter at Sandy Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Tadhg Furlong pictured during Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Exeter at Sandy Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

No less than Furlong in New Zealand, Porter’s development can only be enhanced by the tour. Furlong recalls being exposed to different viewpoints, coaching and training schedules, and intends to embrace the challenge again but adds: “When you look back on it you kind of wish that you enjoyed the middle part of the tour. The Test weeks are when it almost calms down a bit. They’re always enjoyable, the build-up etc, but the middle part and the front part, when it’s frenetic, I’m looking forward to hopefully enjoying that a little bit more this time around.”

He’ll be renewing acquaintances with Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Ken Owens, fellow members of the frontrow union, among others.

“The frontrow are the weird bunch in the corner eating food and we get on quite well together in our own weird little way, but nothing to the level of Seánie [O’Brien] and [James] Haskell. That was outrageous.”

Prior to the Lions Test series four years ago, it’s still remarkable to recall that Furlong had only started his first Test for Ireland exactly a year previously against Tendai Mtawarira, aka The Beast, in Johannesburg, and described himself as “green under the collar” back then.

“You didn’t have a clue about playing at altitude. I remember just being happy with how the day went even though we lost that game. You wreck your head over the scrum, the scrum, the scrum, against the Beast. He’s a legend in the game and [I was] putting so much pressure on yourself there where I’d like to think now you’ve a broader understanding and a bigger picture of rugby since then.”

Furlong has only played against the Springboks once since the 2016 tour, namely in that 38-3 win by Ireland in November 2017, a Test which will have the least relevance possible to this summer’s series, especially at scrum time.

“Everyone saw what happened in the World Cup final and how much emphasis they put on it. They’re kind of back to that brutal physicality. It’s a huge challenge yeah.”

Furlong is of a mind to acquire some Wexford “clobber” to wear in front of the cameras in South Africa. “I got something from Wexford GAA, a top, but it didn’t fit me so Scott Fardy is rocking around in it, with his Wexford ancestors. He’s saying it’s going up on his wall when he goes back to Australia.

“Wexford kicked off the league there last weekend with a decent win so I might get a bit of clobber and throw it on in front of the television. But then they mightn’t let me back in.”

Not surprisingly, Furlong didn’t shed much light on his decision to take a one-year IRFU contract when confirming that a longer deal had been offered to him.

“The one-year deal probably suited me best for a number of reasons really,” he said, citing his happiness playing for Leinster and Ireland, how well he is looked after and his belief that both teams are close to achieving big things.

“A lot of the lads have signed one-year deals in the current term, and it’s no different for them either, you know? I suppose there is the element of risk in it from my point of view in terms of injury or selection or performance, but you just have to get on with it, don’t you? If you start thinking like that, you’re in trouble.”

– Tadhg Furlong is an official Vodafone ambassador for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

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