Tadhg Furlong likes a bowl of ramen or a parcel of gyoza as much as the next man, but there comes a time when this son of Wexford farming stock hankers for a bit of beef, and he sated that appetite in some style in Fukuoka over the weekend.
Like most of the Ireland squad, he could be spotted wandering around the streets of central Fukuoka, revelling in the two days on shore leave, finding coffee shops and, in his case, a steakhouse that reminded him of The Butcher’s Grill back in Ranelagh.
It wasn’t just the food that appealed. The intimate nature of the place was such that he had to bend down just to get under the door and he was sold on the experience by the time the staff brought out the board of Wagyu beef and cooked it there in front of him.
Not every morsel has been to his taste.
“It’s hard to find restaurants because the name is in Japanese,” he explained. “We found a place, got the Google Translate out and it came up as ‘fried chicken cartilage’. I’m all for embracing the culture, but that’s a bit much for me. So, it was like ‘arigato!’
That about sums up his experience off the park in Japan this time. He has embraced the exotic but to a point. Tokyo he found just that bit “too mad” for him. Fukuoka is nice and chilled and more his scene while the traditional Japanese retreat they stayed at in Shizuoka was welcome too.
Furlong didn’t demur when it was put to him that the break here in Fukuoka wasn’t all that dissimilar to the pause the British and Irish Lions took two years ago when Warren Gatland let his players go bungee-jumping, have a few drinks and take helicopter rides before the crucial third test against the All Blacks.
Ireland haven’t been on the move quite as much as the Lions were in 2017 – and there have been no extreme sports engaged in that we know of – but Joe Schmidt’s side will hope the interval serves to re-energise them after a hectic number of weeks.
“It’s nice,” said Furlong, “It nearly breaks it up when you’re in pre-season, go into warm-up games, and you have a window of a few days off before coming over here, but that was trying to see everyone, trying to pack. It’s been nice to unwind.
“It’s been good for us, massively. International rugby is a tough game, I might have spoken before about the mental side as well as the physical side. To play three games at a World Cup, a big event, it’s nice to let the pressure valve go for a few days and then build it back up again.”
This isn’t Furlong’s first World Cup. He was a young squaddie four years ago in England but he is quick to remind anyone that he played only 25 minutes in that tournament. With the other four props staying fit throughout, he found himself filling in at wing and full-back in training.
Much more is expected of him here and now. Furlong has been tagged as the best tighthead prop in the world in recent years but there is a sense that he is not quite playing at his destructive best right now. ‘Okay,’ is how he describes his own form.
Furlong’s ‘okay’ is still better than most others’ best but Ireland need a lot more than average from their leading lights. Far too many of the leaders in the team are treading water although Furlong is wary too about the risk of chasing form that bit too much.
“Yeah, yeah. I suppose, when we play really well, we can be really clinical. We hold onto the ball really well and we just don’t force it. It’s just, I suppose, knuckle down and stick to what you’re good at and be very efficient at it.”
Doing the basics with the efficiency and consistency we saw in 2018 would be a step forward for Ireland given their patchy displays throughout this calendar year and how they could do with that when they face Samoa here on Saturday.
The Pacific Islanders’ tournament will end regardless of what happens but Furlong is dismissive of the suggestion that they have little to play for. If Ireland are to book a quarter-final spot and build some momentum that will start with countering one thing more than most.
“Physicality really, isn’t it? They’re big boys and they’re quite impressive in the tight. In terms of some of their ball-carrying threats, their presence over the ball in terms of their attack, they have a fair bit of flair out wide and dangerous runners if they get it to them. It’s going to be a massive challenge for us and for the forward pack and front five especially and try to get on the front foot.”
Ireland have struggled to find the best of themselves but they approach the weekend knowing that their fate still rests in their own hands in terms of a place in the last eight. At least it appears that way now that Typhoon Hagibis appears to have veered away from the island of Kyushi and north towards Tokyo.
The players and coaches have presented a collectively impassive front in the face of questions this week about possibility cancellations or changes of venue and Furlong didn’t give the impression of a man checking the forecast every few minutes.