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'There will be speculation now if he could play 12 for Ireland'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Leinster skipper Johnny Sexton has quipped that a jaw-dropping pass from Tadhg Furlong will ignite speculation that the popular prop forward possesses the skills to play as a midfielder for Ireland.

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The celebrated No3 produced a right to left whopper on the halfway line just six minutes into Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final win over Toulouse.  

His looping spiral pass was estimated to have travelled around 23 metres and it landed in the breadbasket of Hugo Keenan, freeing the full-back to set off on a gallop to the 22 that had Leinster threatening a try only for Antoine Dupont to block Jamison Gibson-Park’s subsequent grubber kick and go the length to score. 

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Pita Pens & More French Wins | Le French Rugby Podcast | Episode 29
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Pita Pens & More French Wins | Le French Rugby Podcast | Episode 29

Furlong went on to last just 17 minutes of the semi-final before limping off with an ankle injury that will be closely monitored now that Leinster are playing a Champions Cup final on May 28 in Marseille against La Rochelle, the team that defeated them in last year’s semi-finals.  

In the meantime, the quality of the front-rower’s general play contribution versus Toulouse left much for Sexton to savour. “The quality of player that we have, to be able to do things like that in our front row, (second row) Ross Molony threw a couple of lovely passes out the back as well – but it is not something that happens by accident. 

“It comes down to the coaches working on it every single day relentlessly day in and day out, even when you are not playing you are doing extra skills sessions. So yeah, it doesn’t just happen or it’s not luck that these players just appeared. 

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“Years of hard work and good coaching has gone into them and yeah, it was a lovely pass by Tadhg. I’m sure it will be part of his new highlights reel and there will be speculation now if he could play 12 for Ireland and is he the best playmaker that we have and all that. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it.”

The early exit of someone as important as Furlong from such a high profile European match would have troubled Leinster in the past, but they were able to call on ex-Crusaders prop Michael Ala’alatoa to keep the Irish province going strong against the French at the weekend.

It’s a strength in depth that captain Sexton believes puts Leinster in a much stronger position heading into this year’s final compared to their last appearance in the European showpiece, the 2019 loss to Saracens in Newcastle. “We have been desperate to get back here. We just feel like we didn’t get our best performance out there on the day and Saracens were an incredible team.

“But the guys have had more experiences over the last few years and the calibre of player that we have now, you look at our pack and how good they are, so our squad depth is different now. We can rely on our second and third-choice players much better than we could in 2019.” 

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