Tadhg Furlong braced for vengeful All Blacks side
In-form forward expecting another ‘brutal’ affair as Lions seek to win series decider
Lions forward Tadhg Furlong is tackled by the All Blacks’ Jerome Kaino during the second Test match. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Brian O’Driscoll played against the All Blacks 14 times and was on the losing team every time. Ronan O’Gara was 13 losses from 13 meetings. Paul O’Connell was nine from nine, and so on. There are lots like them, not just Irish.
Then Tadhg Furlong comes along and is part of the first Irish side to beat New Zealand last November in Chicago to leave him one from one. Last Saturday he was a big part, in every sense, of the Lions’ win in Wellington, thus making his record two from four.
What’s all the fuss about? Hardly.
“I think you always fear the All Blacks in the way that if you don’t get your stuff sorted, if you don’t man up and meet them head on head, it’s a tough day at the office. If that doesn’t happen they’ll cut you to ribbons in the wider channels if you give them that sort of space. They can score a try from anywhere they’re that dangerous, they’ve threats all over the park.”
“If none of that works they’re just so damn consistent, good at holding on to the ball. They’re a tough team to beat. You have to keep attacking them, but it’s easier said than done.”
Furlong is bracing himself for a backlash.
“They’re probably in a similar position as we were the week just gone, where your pride is a little bit dented and you want to come out . . . it’s a Test series, they’re going to be absolutely bulling for it as we were.
“You just have to be ready with your detail right, be physically and emotionally at that pitch that you can compete and then try and stand, go toe to toe.”
In this, Furlong speaks from experience, a la Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Jack McGrath, in having experienced the sheer venom and at times brutality of the All Blacks’ revenge win in the Aviva Stadium last November.
This prompted Furlong to say: “I don’t think they’ll massively change what they’re doing. They’ll try to physically come back at us which is the same in pretty much every Test match. Especially that match in Dublin, I remember coming off the pitch and being absolutely shattered. I was sore for days after it.”
“It was one of the most brutal Test matches I’ve played in, in my short career. So I think everyone will expect that and try and gee themselves up for it.”
All of which points to a ferocious battle across the gain line at Eden Park. Warren Gatland put it up to his players to increase their physicality in the collisions and at the breakdown in the second Test, but they will probably have to take this commitment to another level in the finale to a gripping tour and long, long season.
“Everyone was really disappointed after the first Test,” admitted Furlong, adding: “They bossed us a little bit around that sort of ruck area and two or three defenders out so they probably got over the gain line really easy.”
“Conditions [last Saturday] probably, not forced them, but controlled them into playing in that way again same as us. It was very hard to hold on to the ball or try to offload as well. We knew we would have to be on top of our game there.”
“There were lads probably trying to rectify a few wrongs and I think everyone is pretty pleased with the physicality levels. Again, you are coming back to Auckland in the third Test decider, it’s going to have to be right up there again or even push it on a bit further to match them up front again next week.”
Last Saturday Furlong had another big game in the coalface, carrying strongly and tackling big, if not quite to the same levels as in the first Test. But, recalling how Joe Moody got under him when the All Blacks did a number on the Lions at scrum time in the build-up to the first Rieko Ioane try, Furlong was also part of a stronger scrummaging unit last Saturday.
Following on from the Crusaders game and the first Test, this was the third time these two frontrows had gone toe to toe, with more of the same on the cards in the series decider. Furlong has been directly opposed by Moody on three occasions already on this tour, and Wayne Crockett off the bench, and a fourth tête-à-tête seems inevitable.
“It’s unusual to play that regularly. I don’t think the All Blacks scrum gets the credit from the outside world that we would give it because believe me they are a very, very strong unit. Sometimes you are really holding on and you are scrapping to hold parity in there, especially on your ball it’s hugely competitive and it’s sort of a weird dynamic when you are playing each other so often.
“You probably get used to little things, you go to the next match and they try to bring something a little bit different and you are countering. It’s all sort of tit for tat but at the end of the day it’s always hugely competitive and a huge challenge for us as a frontrow. They have been together for a long time and played a lot of games together, be that with the Crusaders or the All Blacks.”
Sam Warburton mentioned the Lions’ 16th man immediately after the second Test in reference to the 20,000-strong Red Army. Amazingly, Eden Park had not been sold out completely prior to the second Test, but one imagines it will be now and that last Saturday’s result ought only to swell the Lions’ support.
“It would be a completely different sort of mood, not only within the group but the fans as well if we hadn’t won,” said Furlong.
“It’s very important. It sets up a huge game next weekend. You see the numbers out at the game, you hear them in the stand and that support carries when the going gets tough.
“Believe me it is pretty tough, in terms of that first half yesterday and coming towards the end of the game their noise lifted you and when you need a pick-up they are right here behind you. It’s brilliant.”