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Friday 22 September 2017

Tadhg: We must go toe to toe with Blacks

Gatland should rely on Leinster props Furlong and McGrath

Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Jerome Kaino of New Zealand during the second test in Wellington. Photo: Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Jerome Kaino of New Zealand during the second test in Wellington. Photo: Sportsfile

"Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

This ominous warning often poured out of the mouth of Bill Bixby before transforming into 'The Incredible Hulk' in the classic television series.

You know what happened then, don't you? The reasonable man became a monster, who tore apart everything in his path.

The British & Irish Lions took the same meaning from having the temerity to bring the All Blacks to a third test on Saturday.

"When your pride is a little dented, you come out and you'll be absolutely bulling for it," reviewed Lions tight-head prop Tadhg Furlong.

Sam Warburton, right, and Jack McGrath of the British & Irish Lions. Photo: Sportsfile
Sam Warburton, right, and Jack McGrath of the British & Irish Lions. Photo: Sportsfile

"You've got to get your detail right, be physically and emotionally at that pitch where you can compete and then try to go toe-to-toe."

The Wexfordman won't have to wonder what is coming this weekend.

He was part of history when Ireland ended the All Blacks 18-match winning streak and the 111-year hold over the men in green at Soldier Field in Chicago just seven months ago.

Punishment

The price was paid in the heavy punishment dished out two weeks later when the world champions came to Dublin and hammered Ireland in every way possible.

Robbie Henshaw was concussed by Sam Cane's shoulder and Simon Zebo almost had his head taken off by Malakai Fekitoa's forearm.

"That match in Dublin, I remember coming off the pitch and being absolutely shattered.

"I was sore for days afterwards," issued Furlong.

"It was one of the most brutal Test matches I've played in my short career. We all expect to have the same thing again."

Surely, Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Furlong are nailed down to start the third test at Eden Park, where New Zealand have not lost for 39 matches.

There could be even more Irish influence brought to bear from the promotion of prop Jack McGrath to start and even Iain Henderson to the bench.

"We'll look at it in the next few days and talk to the players," said coach Warren Gatland.

"When we looked back on the tape of the first Test, our forwards were a bit heavy-legged."

This has given Gatland food for thought about his next move. He is not immune from surprise selections. Sexton comes bounding to mind.

Surely, Mako Vunipola's brain snap - never mind the four penalties - in twice taking out Beauden Barrett was the sign of a player imploding under pressure.

The admirable Jack McGrath spent the first few seasons of international rugby playing second fiddle to Cian Healy.

Now, he has stood in the queue behind Vunipola for two tests.

It is time for Gatland to turn to McGrath's scrum solidity, low error count and, most importantly, proven disciplinary record to keep the pressure on New Zealand.

The case for the hard-charging Henderson is less clear than it is for McGrath.

However, the retention of Alun Wyn Jones for the second test may just have drained the energy levels of the decorated Welshman.

It would come as no surprise for Gatland to insert Henderson straight into the second row or even in behind the impressive Courtney Lawes on the wood.

"The ironic thing is that this (All Blacks) team is the best team in the world and for two Test matches they really haven't stressed us," said Gatland.

"They have squeezed us, made us give away penalties, and that has been to our downfall.

"But we haven't seen the expansive rugby that the All Blacks are known for and creating havoc.

"We've coped with that and, if we can continue to cope with that and improve in other areas, then we are going to see, hopefully, a great Test match," predicted The Lions coach.

"Yes, we have poked the bear, but, hopefully, the wounded Lion from last week is still recovering as well."

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