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Sunday 19 November 2017

Furlong goes from farm to taking on all blacks

Lions Series 1st Test All Blacks v B&I Lions Eden Park, Live SS1 (KO 8.35am)

Tadhg Furlong
Tadhg Furlong

Tadhg Furlong will be the youngest British & Irish Lions forward starting against the All Blacks in Auckland tomorrow morning.

Moreover, the 24-year-old will be playing in the most physically demanding position.

It has been quite the climb from base camp at Leinster to the summit of the game in New Zealand.

It is more than interesting to note how Leinster's two starting forwards have emerged from the untraditional areas of the game in the south-east of the province.

The net has been spread well outside the pale for some years now.

It could be argued that Seán O'Brien was the man more responsible than any other, in forcing 'the powers that were' to remove their heads from the schools system sand.

Multiple

Just as multiple injuries threatened to derail the Tullow Tank's career in recent seasons, Furlong emerged out of New Ross, more specifically from a cattle farm, just a three-minute walk to the small village of Campile, to remind Leinster that 'farmer's strength' is not just an Irish myth.

It is a childhood lifestyle that leads to the natural growth of the kind of 'hardy bucks' necessary for Ireland's prominence in the game.

Now, Furlong and O'Brien will be right at the heart of the Lions mission to go where few have gone before.

There have been 11 British & Irish Lions tours to New Zealand of which just one returned a series win, back in 1971.

Those men have been immortalised in Lions lore.

The squeezed nature of the tour and the demands of the professional game make a series success even more unlikely.

New Zealand is a world away from the farm where Furlong grew up, playing rugby at New Ross where his father James was a clubman.

Through a meteoric rise to the top of the game, Furlong has kept his feet firmly rooted to the ground.

The old sod is pretty important to any farmer and the old ways are good enough for his father.

"My dad actually still has not got a mobile phone, which he is still pretty happy about," said Furlong.

"My parents are coming over next week. My mum (Margaret) has sorted out roaming.

"She's got her head around that apparently. So hopefully I'll be able to keep in contact with them.

"It's a proud moment for the family, but you'd probably never get that out of the old fella though!

"He'll just be screaming down the phone because he can't hear me too well!

"But it's a massively proud moment for them, and for my father, who would have supported and followed rugby for a very long time."

Furlong took his first serious step towards the Lions by holding his own for Ireland against South Africa last June.

However, the arrival of former England head coach Stuart Lancaster into Leinster was soon followed by a one-on-one sit down.

"I think the real moment, the focus for me this year, was when Stuart came in to Leinster," realyed Furlong.

"He obviously hadn't worked with a lot of the players there before.

Push

"When we sat down he said 'from what I've seen, you can really try to push on and aim to be a Lion this year'."

The tight-head was stuck to his seat as he had just arrived on the international stage and was looking for more game time for Ireland.

"At first, I thought 'jeez man, what are you saying?'.

"You probably don't see yourself in that picture. But he backed me, gave me a focus and a goal to drive towards."

It would be a mistake to under-estimate Furlong's happy-go-lucky nature off the field.

He is a different animal on it and the month of November only served to confirm Lancaster's impression.

"It's weird the journey you take when you get your first international start and you get exposed to that big world, and all its pressures," said Furlong, who has just 16 Ireland caps under his belt.

"As you get used to it and spend more time in that high-pressure environment, you can probably let your game play a bit more.

"I came out of the November Tests with a lot of confidence.

"When you start to put minutes on minutes, it can give you that bit of confidence that you can start pushing towards or aiming for something."

It has all led up to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make history.

"It probably doesn't get any bigger than the All Blacks in Eden Park, to be fair," he said.

"We have a session this afternoon (Thursday) as well to keep going at things and perfect little things we want to perfect.

"These are the sort of days that you play rugby for."

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