Apparently we have a crisis in Ireland. It is covered extensively in newspapers and debated constantly by talking heads on television. No, it is not the economic crisis. It is the tighthead crisis.
The tighthead crisis is how mainstream media describes the lack of depth Irish rugby currently has in the position of tighthead prop. Currently, Ireland has Mike Ross, second in line is a New Zealander, who has spent as much time in Ireland as Giovanni Trapattoni has watching Wes Hoolahan.
For some reason, Ireland hasn’t been able to produce the same amount of tighthead props to match the production line that churns out backrow players, as if searching to fill a Soviet quota. DCU’s Tadhg Furlong is one of the players Irish rugby is looking to in order to change that. Furlong has spent two years in the Leinster Academy, and feels the setup provided is improving the level of tighthead props.
“If you look at Leinster we have a few young props coming through so I don’t think there is a crisis, I think it’s just a matter of the young tightheads getting more experience. If I want to work on my scrummaging I can get a video of my last game and go over it with the coaches and pick up a few things that I can work on. Mike Ross sometimes gives me a bit of help with it as well.”
The Leinster Academy is a very professional and time consuming enterprise. Furlong’s average week is divided between Leinster and his club and entails two gym sessions, three pitch sessions, a fitness evaluation, stretching and finally a match. Balancing the busy schedule with college work can be a struggle and Furlong also feels it’s important to develop outside interests in order to keep your sanity.
“It’s a tough task to manage your time between rugby and college. As much as we would all like to be professional players, not all of us can be, so it’s important to have an education to fall back on. Leinster encourages us to have interests outside rugby. I wouldn’t like if my life was all rugby all the time.”
Furlong had two chances to play in the prestigious U20 World Cup. Whereas in the past, maybe each team had a couple of physically gifted players, now almost every team is populated by gargantuan young men who are fast becoming ready for the physical demands of the professional game. Furlong had the chance to compete against South African monster Eben Etzebeth, who scarily is a full stone heavier and seven inches taller than the South African prop known as “The Beast”. Maybe it’s time for Etzebeth to inherit the title.
“Etzebeth was a monster even then and now he is ripping it up on the international stage. Playing at the World Cup gives you great exposure to the best players at your age group around the world. It’s a real eye opener as to where you need to be as a player to progress to the next level,” he said.
Furlong is on a scholarship at DCU but his Leinster commitments mean he cannot play for the college. However, he finds time in his schedule to help out with the team and feels there is an appetite for rugby on campus.
“I can’t play but that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to the rugby club here. I can take coaching sessions and give the lads advice. I think the standard is good. Rugby here is getting stronger and I think Phil de Barra is doing a good job coaching the team.”
Given how frequently Leinster is shorn of their international players, Furlong has been given opportunities to train with the first team in their absence. And while he didn’t find the step up too daunting playing wise, mixing with established internationals took a bit of getting used to.
“It can be a bit strange at first. You have people coming up introducing themselves. Brian O’Driscoll was shaking my hand saying ‘Hi, I’m Brian’ and I was just thinking ‘I know who you are’.”
IMAGE CREDIT: Sportfile