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'A big challenge from a big pack': Furlong on Tonga's almost 400kg front-row

By PA
Ireland's Tadhg Furlong (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ireland’s coaching staff and players are braced for a “big step up” at the Rugby World Cup as they prepare to face the “serious threats” of Tonga in Nantes.

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Andy Farrell’s men launched their campaign by running in 12 tries during a thumping 82-8 demolition of Pool B minnows Romania.

Ireland have pivotal Paris appointments against South Africa and Scotland on the horizon but feel they cannot afford to underestimate the nation sitting 15th in the Test rankings.

“They’ve got some of the best open field runners in world rugby,” defence coach Simon Easterby said of Tonga.

“They’ve got guys in the forward pack that can mix it, they can offload. And they’ve got attacking threats throughout their back line.

“It’s a real challenge for us defensively, it’s one that we’re probably ready for after the Romania game. We didn’t have to get through that much work without the ball.

“It’s going to be a big step up from the challenge Romania threw at us.

“They (Tonga) attack well but they certainly want to come and hit and put us off our rhythm.”

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Head coach Farrell spoke of focusing on immediate challenges and respecting Tonga, who are preparing for their opening match of the tournament, when announcing a strong team on Thursday afternoon.

Aside from sidelined hooker Dan Sheehan and first-choice scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, the Englishman has gone with arguably his preferred starting XV, which features four personnel changes from last weekend.

Full-back Hugo Keenan feels it is easy to concentrate game by game, despite the looming threat of the Springboks.

“Yeah, I think it has (been),” he said. “I know throughout the pool, there is tough games coming up but Tonga are a serious side, serious threats and individuals across the team.

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“We’re only looking at them, we’re only focusing on this week.”

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Following the scorching conditions of their Bordeaux curtain-raiser, where temperatures reached 36 degrees Celsius, Ireland trained in 30-degree heat on Friday afternoon at Stade de la Beaujoire.

Prop Tadhg Furlong joked about needing to layer up as he prepares for a stern test against Tonga’s bulky front-row forwards.

“I was thinking of putting a jumper on today compared to what we’ve been used to,” he said.

“Although it is hot, it doesn’t feel as hot (as previously). (It’s been) like an oven, or someone blowing a hairdryer in your face, for the last few weeks.”

Referring to the weekend challenge, he said: “Of course we respect them. Sometimes in scrummaging there’s no replacement for displacement.

“Weight makes it heavy, it makes it hard, that’s the nature of it and it’s a big challenge from a big pack. We have to be technically good.”

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