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'It was absolutely disgusting... There are not too many tighthead props in world rugby who can do that'

By Ciarán Kennedy
Ireland tighthead Tadhg Furlong. (Photo by Getty Images)

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Former Ireland international Mike Ross believes Tadhg Furlong is reaping the benefits of his year out of the game following the tighthead’s eye-catching performance against Scotland on Sunday. The Leinster prop spent almost 12 months out of action due to calf, back and hamstring injuries, on the back of the lengthy Covid-enforced postponement of the rugby season.

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Furlong returned to fitness just in time for Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, replacing Andrew Porter off the bench in the defeats to Wales and France before starting the wins over Italy and Scotland.

Sunday’s game in Edinburgh was arguably his best performance of the season, with Furlong solid around the set-piece as well as carrying well and making some important contributions in defence.

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Ben Foden Mic’d Up at training with Rugby United New York | MLR
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Ben Foden Mic’d Up at training with Rugby United New York | MLR

However, it was Furlong’s dancing feet which really caught the eye, the tighthead showing great footwork in the first-half to side-step two Scotland players, George Turner and Finn Russell, in quick succession.

And Ross, who played 61 times for Ireland, believes his former teammate possesses a skillset few tightheads in world rugby can match.

“It was disgusting, absolutely disgusting,” Ross said when asked about Furlong’s impressive footwork.

“There are not too many tighthead props in world rugby who can do that is there? Certainly not in Ireland. Another one for the highlights reel.

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“I was talking to him a couple of weeks ago. In a way, the extended lay-off did him a favour. He’d been playing pretty much non-stop for about three years since he broke onto the international team between summer tours, Lions tours and the rest of it. It gave him the chance to work on a few areas that he hadn’t been able to do – get a proper pre-season in, eat the weights for a bit, and I think you’re seeing the benefits of it now.”

Sunday’s 27-24 defeat of Scotland leaves Ireland with two wins from four games ahead of Saturday’s round five fixture with England. And while Ireland’s struggle for consistency has been something of a concern under Andy Farrell, Ross says he has seen enough evidence to suggest the team are on the right path.

“I think they are. The set-piece is good. They absolutely crucified the Scottish line-out. What was it? The Scots won two from nine? Those are ridiculous stats, so Paulie (O’Connell) has come in and made an impact.

Former Ireland and Leinster tighthead Mike Ross.

“The set-piece has been good, the rucking has generally been good, it’s just about putting the sum of the parts together and getting a consistent game, the defence is good in spells, the attack is good in spells but it is about keeping it, putting the whole thing together and about being more than the sum of the parts.”

Ireland haven’t beaten England since 2018, struggling to match England’s physicality in their recent encounters. That trend has also been evident at club level, with Leinster falling short in the same department against Saracens across the last two Champions Cup seasons.

Ross believes that while the English put huge pride in their scrum, Ireland have improved their own set-piece work this season, which should result in a more competitive battle in Dublin on Saturday.

“It can be dangerous,” Ross said of the the English scrum. “It should be even enough, but it depends what attitude we come with, too. The English, I know from my time in the Premiership they kind of use it as a bit of a willy waving contest. They put tremendous pride in their scrum.

“They want to attack you there and lay down a physical marker. I’ve had bad days and I’ve had good days against the English scrum.

“But I think if you look at the components of our scrum, James Ryan and Iain Henderson make a big difference there. They’ve tweaked the scrum set-up. Before, they had a kind of sling-shot approach, the number eight taking the weight off the second rows and pushing them in.

“Now they stay down, the second rows stay on their knees until the bind call and then they come up, which, instead of hitting in two stages, you’re just going bang, all the weight goes on straight away.

“Fogs (John Fogarty, Ireland scrum coach) has learned from Saracens v Leinster last year, I guess, and the set-up has been looking really nice. I really like to watch it quite a bit and see what they are doing, and it seems balanced, it seems stable, and it seems powerful.”

Mike Ross today launched ISPCC Childline’s ‘Team Of Us-Together for Childline’ competition, with thanks to Vodafone and Irish Rugby. This competition gives Irish Rugby supporters the chance to win one of the players’ signed matchday jerseys from the 23-man squad that will face England on March 20th. To be in with a chance of winning one of the jerseys, simply make a donation of at least €10.00 to ISPCC Childline at https://www.idonate.ie/teamofus

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'It was absolutely disgusting... There are not too many tighthead props in world rugby who can do that'

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