Tadhg Furlong’s one-year extension ‘better than none,’ says Contepomi
IRFU would have been keen to secure tighthead until at least the 2023 World Cup
Tadhg Furlong has signed a one-year extension to his IRFU contract. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Even the IRFU statement confirming Tadhg Furlong’s new one-year central contract with the Union seemed fittingly low-key and brief. The tone seemed decidedly muted.
David Nucifora and Furlong each provided just one comment apiece, with the former noting the player’s positive influence for both Ireland and Leinster after “a long time out of the game”, while his recent performances “reminded everyone why he is rated as one of the best tightheads in world rugby”.
“Happy to sign on for one more year,” was the quote attributed to Furlong. “There has been some tough days of late but I believe the squads we have in both Leinster and Ireland are able to compete for trophies in the future. I look forward to hopefully playing at a packed out RDS or Aviva Stadium in the months ahead.”
Undoubtedly there would have been an altogether more celebratory tone had the contract been for longer than to the end of the 2021-22 season. World-class, two-time Lions tightheads don’t exactly fall out of Irish trees and the IRFU would have liked to tie down such a prized asset until at least the 2023 World Cup.
That Furlong, after nigh on five months of negotiations, ultimately decided on a one-year extension long after the other new central contracts were completed suggests the discussions were not the smoothest.
True, several players have opted for one-year deals in the current climate pending the return of crowds and improved contracts – witness Furlong referencing as much. Clearly though, the 28-year-old is also of a mind to weigh up his options a year hence, including the potential for a move abroad.
Maintaining that it was still “great news for Leinster” and good for Furlong and Irish rugby, the Leinster assistant coach Felipe Contepomi sought to allay worries among the province’s supporters.
“Everyone will have concerns. You want to have him sign a long-term deal, but it’s one-year, it’s better than none. I am pretty sure that if things get right on track, hopefully he will be longer with us,” said Contepomi.
“Everyday he does the best for Leinster to succeed. He is very ingrained in that and Ireland obviously. Hopefully he can stay for longer.”
These are interesting days in Leinster, what with the fall-out from their defeat by La Rochelle, quarantining, a decidedly mixed bag when it came to the Lions and then taking out their frustrations on Connacht.
Describing Johnny Sexton as “a true professional” who is “flying” in training, with the Lions in mind Contepomi sidestepped the question of Sexton’s “durability” as neatly as in his playing days.
“Even if I agree or not it doesn’t make any difference, it’s managing players and it’s what he can bring or not and you need to respect what selectors do, it’s very subjective.
“I mean, if you asked 10 coaches, you probably wouldn’t have the same 37 names on the 10 different sheets. So I respect what the selectors want, maybe that’s the way they see it. The only one thing I can say is when I see every day, or even today, and Johnny is flying.
“But then, rugby is a contact sport and [if] Dan Biggar went out at the weekend with a concussion or a head injury, it doesn’t mean that he will be concussed in South Africa. It’s part of the game.”
In light of the defeat by La Rochelle, Contepomi was rather dismissive of the debates surrounding the South African teams upping the Pro 14’s standards, or in comparing the Pro 14 and the Top 14.
“The reality is we have different models. In French rugby, you buy a player, you can destroy him – to put it in that word – in two years and buy another one. That’s the way it is. In our model, it’s not like that.
“Then you can argue a lot of things – if it’s good, if it’s bad. At the end of the day our model tries to help not only Leinster being successful but Ireland being successful,” he said, pointing to Ireland’s three Six Nations titles in the last decade, compared to none by France.
“It’s very easy to say the Pro 14 is a bad tournament and the Top 14 is a good one. Obviously we want to win the Champions Cup and maybe that’s because Leinster have such a level or objective that’s very high. But we are also here developing players and making sure the machine doesn’t run out of petrol. So it’s a whole system.”
Back to the more immediate matter of the Rainbow Cup, in which Leinster host Ulster this Friday, with Caelan Doris and Jimmy O’Brien back in full training.
“Our mindset is simple, we want to improve every game and win every game, that’s our mindset,” said Contepomi.
“We don’t even know how it’s going to be defined, the tournament, we don’t know how it will end up. The only thing we can concentrate on now is Ulster on Friday and just improving what we have to improve on last weekend and know that we are going against a very tough team, that we know each other very well because we are playing for the fourth time since August.
“That’s what we achieve; improvement, improvement, improvement, every single day.”