Hopes that Ireland tighthead Tadhg Furlong was on the cusp of a long-awaited return to playing this week have been dashed after Leinster reported that he has suffered a setback in training.

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The PRO14 champions are back on league duty this Sunday at home to Cardiff and Furlong, who hasn’t played a match of any kind since Ireland’s February Six Nations loss away to England, will not feature.

When the 2019/20 season resumed after lockdown, Furlong, the 2017 Lions Test series tighthead, was marked absent due to a back problem and he has remained on the sidelines having picked up a calf injury during his rehab.         

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The weekly Leinster medical bulletins had suggested in recent weeks that he was nearing a return to play but their latest update has now revealed a setback.

“Unfortunately, he hasn’t progressed as the physio team would have liked from his calf injury and will not be available for selection,” read the injury statement. 

The backbone of the Ireland pack, Furlong was missed by Leinster in September when their scrum endured a torrid time in their Champions Cup quarter-final loss to Saracens. His presence was also missed when Ireland failed to get the necessary win away to France to clinch Six Nations title success last month.

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Now 28, the 44-cap Ireland forward was chosen earlier this year as Ian McGeechan’s favourite to be the Lions Test starter when the 2021 series opened next July in Johannesburg.   

McGeechan revisited his selection earlier this month in the company of RugbyPass. Asked for a possible alternative to Furlong, who is still waiting for his season to start, the 2009 Lions boss said: “(Zander) Fagerson would be in the mix. I personally like him. You have got the English front row (Kyle Sinckler) which certainly you have to have in mind.”

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