Tadhg Furlong back in action and ready to join Ireland squad
Prop back in the frame after a year’s absence following successful comeback
Tadhg Furlong takes on Scarlets’ Phil Price and Sam Lousi during Leinster’s victory over the Welsh outfit at Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Inpho
Tadhg Furlong will make a return to Test rugby in Ireland’s opening Guinness 2021 Six Nations game against Wales in Cardiff after giving Andy Farrell a timely boost by successfully negotiating a 40-minute comeback in Leinster’s 52-25 win over the Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday night.
After being sidelined for almost a year since the defeat by England at Twickenham on February 23rd with back and calf issues, Furlong came through the first half of the champions’ win, at which point they led 31-13 and had already secured their 11th attacking bonus point in 12 matches this season.
His withdrawal after 40 minutes had been preordained, and in his time on the pitch Furlong dusted off the cobwebs, putting in a big shunt at his first scrum and contributing to a dominant Leinster maul as well making half a dozen carries without any dramas.
While lacking match fitness, Furlong looked like a player who had been training hard for several weeks and we know the quality of Leinster’s sessions are of a very high standard and tempo.
As the only way for him to build up his match fitness is now with Ireland, Furlong will most probably be named on the bench when Andy Farrell announces his side next Friday, with the more match-hardened Andrew Porter set to start.
In any event, Furlong will be closely monitored and minded this week,
“That’s the beauty of our training, the intensity we put in in training, we can pretty much see and get a feel for the player,” says attack coach Mike Catt.
“Faz has an open and honest relationship with most of the players here and they’ll be dead honest with him, same with the medics. It’s a combination of all of those things to make sure we put the best team out there and what’s best for Wales in 10 days’ time will be picked accordingly.”
“It’s not just about match fitness, it’s about whether they fit the combinations and everything that goes with it. So, everybody needs to be able to put their hand up.”
In using their games in hand to complete back-to-back wins over Munster and the Scarlets, Leinster have usurped Ulster atop Conference B by four points in what is, as things stand, a two-way race for a place in the final.
Both teams have five games remaining. Leinster have a two-week break before taking on the Dragons and then host Glasgow before travelling to Belfast for a crunch clash with Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium on March 6th, the second fallow week during the Six Nations. The champions finish up with games against Zebre (away) and the Opsreys (home).
Ulster’s five game run-in is: Glasgow (away), Ospreys (home), Leinster (home), Dragons (away) and Zebre (home).
Meanwhile Munster have opened up what looks like a fairly unassailable 15-point lead over Connacht, even though the latter have a game in hand, after what was a comparatively patchy, uneven performance against Benetton in Treviso when again failing to press home an early lead.
Admittedly, as is also par for the course, it wasn’t without drama as ultimately, Munster were indebted to an 82nd-minute, 35-metre drop goal by JJ Hanrahan, who showed his grit after a rollercoaster week which had seen him miss a couple of costly penalties against Leinster and be demoted to the bench in Treviso.
“We stuck to it right until the end and with Munster it’s never over ’til the final whistle goes,” said Johann van Graan afterwards. “It’s something in our armoury when you get to the last play of the game in a two- or three-point game. It was a really good maul and really good composure and it was great for JJ to get that drop goal.”