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Wednesday 19 December 2018

The Big Easy still puts in hard yards

Nothing simple in Furlong's dedication to game

Tadhg Furlong’s relaxed attitude outside of rugby couldn’t contrast more with how he approaches games. Pic: Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong’s relaxed attitude outside of rugby couldn’t contrast more with how he approaches games. Pic: Sportsfile

What more can you say about Tadhg Furlong?

The measure of his rise through the last two years, most notably last season, left many, even in New Zealand, shocked the prop was left off the 2018 World Player of the Year shortlist.

The jolly purple-and-gold giant from Wexford was not above being the victim of a goading from fellow front rower Rory Best, when the captain described Furlong as "a simple farmer" last Friday.

"You can't get slagged about something if it's the truth, can you?" smiled the tight-head.

"I'm an open book. What you see is what you get, so there's not much to delve further into.

"There's nothing extraordinary here, just a humble farmer from Wexford."

Furlong is one of those people who's able to compartmentalise the different parts of his life.

On the way into, and out of, a media interview at Carton House on Tuesday, the expression was one of someone on his way to the sweet shop for a bag of jelly babies.

The time to be serious comes away from the public eye and is reserved for game days.

"Tadhg works hard. He asks a lot of questions," explained scrum coach Greg Feek.

"He studies hard. He's smart. He's not just athletically good.

"It's probably the smart work he does, the homework he does that gets him into positions to be able to play the way does.

"He really takes on board all the feedback from all the coaches and is a good professional."

Perhaps, it is the knowledge of the work tucked away and the growing comfort of knowing what to expect that allows 'The Big Easy' to kick back and take the questions at his ease.

While Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson like to engage in building Lego sets in their spare time, Furlong is more inclined to be in the middle of the card club.

He pointed to someone else when it came to identifying the shark in that pool.

"Dev Toner, he's like a giraffe just looking around and then plonks his arms on the table because they're so long.

"He kind of makes his rules as he goes along as well, whatever suits him really."

Back to the business, this is a stand-alone test match in which Ireland can strike a blow for themselves and the rest of the world, just as South Africa did in Wellington, in further undermining the All Blacks' invincibility.

"You know, you get to test yourself against the best team in the world and on your own home patch.

"It's a game that, as a rugby player, you kind of live for, in some ways."

The 26 year-old - his birthday was on yesterday - has already ticked the boxes of beating New Zealand with Ireland in 2016 and the British and Irish Lions in 2017.

Furlong has played against the All Blacks five times, winning twice, losing twice and drawing once.

Those victories weren't on Irish soil though. This is the next box to tick.

"You probably think that's a big motivating factor for the group.

"But, it probably doesn't take over your week either.

"There's still a lot of boxes to tick and nuts to tighten to get the machine going."

Of course, the most important parts of the plan are the set-piece, where the lineout will have to improve from last week and the scrum will undergo a far sterner examination.

"I think there are incremental improvements every player can make and, then, in some of our unit work, there's definitely improvements we can make in certain areas," he said.

He has already been able to look back and rummage through those test matches against New Zealand.

"Before I play a team, I like to look back at the last 3-4 times I played against them, watch clips back.

"Some of those clips from 2016, I'm going, 'Jesus, what are you doing there?' I was sloppy, or slow to react," he stated.

"Or sometimes it works the other way, you think, 'that was really good,' I went away from that, want to add that back into my game again.

"I'm a lot more comfortable in the environment, I'm definitely a lot more comfortable around the field.

"I've definitely improved a lot since then."

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