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The verdict on Furlong, the Lions' second-most regular Test starter

By Liam Heagney

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Ken Owens has hailed the improved 2021 Lions contribution of Tadhg Furlong, the tighthead who is poised for his sixth consecutive Test start in the famous red jersey this Saturday, a selection consistency that only Alun Wyn Jones, the veteran skipper who is starting his ninth consecutive Lions Test, can eclipse in Warren Gatland’s latest starting XV.

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Owens was part of the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand, coming off the bench in two of the Test games versus the All Blacks where Furlong was an ever-present as the starting tighthead.

The Irishman has reprised that role four years later, owning the No3 jersey in this latest three-game Test series in South Africa, and Owens, a sub in the opening two games versus the Springboks, will now get to pack down with Furlong in the starting front row after finally earning the No2 jersey.

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“Tadhg is an absolute world-class front row forward,” reckoned Owens, the 34-year-old veteran of 82 Wales caps. “Scrummaging-wise he knows exactly what he wants from me as a hooker and what he needs and the work he does off the field is just unbelievable.

“The detail he goes into to make sure the scrummaging is spot on, what he expects from the hooker, loosehead, flanker – that rubs off on you. He is the anchor of the scrum and he leaves you in no doubt what he expects from you.

“He has gone up a level from four years definitely with his experience around the place. What he has added to his game especially is not just his scrummaging, it’s his knowledge of maul work, the contact area, carrying, he is definitely an all-round player now and not just the scrummaging threat that was seen (back then). He definitely has added a lot more to his game from four years ago.”

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A win on Saturday versus South Africa will see Warren Gatland go down in history as arguably the greatest Lions coach of all time following his 2013 series triumph over the Wallabies and the 2017 draw with the All Blacks. His immense influence in the lead-up to this Saturday’s series decider in Cape Town hasn’t been lost on Owens.

“He [Gatland] is pretty calm. He just knows how to get the best out of the players whether it is a small conversation here or there, steps in when he needs to, prompts boys when he needs to and he is just very calm and knows how to get the best out of each individual.

“He has been at his best with that this week. You can just sense the confidence and the experience he brings by the way he enters team meetings or he talks. It’s just that huge experience that he has got is just right around the place at the moment.”

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The verdict on Furlong, the Lions' second-most regular Test starter

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