Even in victory, Tadhg Furlong finds room to improve

Leinster, like Ireland, are no longer governed by the old standards.

What was once acceptable is no longer considered up to scratch. The baseline has been raised. Leo Cullen said as much after the disappointing one-point defeat in Toulouse in October when pointing out how a losing bonus point in France used to be considered a success.

Munster would recognise this shift in emphasis, too.

The heightened expectations in both provinces was evident again last weekend. Munter had 25 points to spare on Castres in Thomond Park. Leinster claimed a vital win in Bath. Yet both turned into the new week feeling less than pleased with their performances.

Tadhg Furlong has picked up on that vibe.

“I felt we had lost the game in some ways because lads were disappointed with the performance. We do set the standards high. We are ambitious. We want to go well in this tournament again this year. We probably didn’t reach that level of performance at the weekend (we are capable of).”

Furlong had plenty of opinions on why Leinster struggled at the Rec. Their ball control wasn’t good enough. They didn’t get to grips with Sam Underhill and Francois Louw at the breakdown. They didn’t dominate enough collisions.

Bath brought great line-speed and a pair of cute poachers to the contest. The ball was greasy and the windy conditions didn’t make it easy either. What it amounts to is two consecutive European performances riddled with imperfections.

Imperious as they have been in the PRO14 with their second and third strings, their inability to purr against Toulouse and Bath has sown just a small seed of doubt as they go about defending the European crown claimed last May.

A knee-jerk reaction? Perhaps.

Furlong, when asked to pinpoint a connection between the last two stuttering performances, pointed out that both were games away from home in tough conditions. So he wasn’t exactly on board when asked if it was time for something of a ‘statement’ display this week.

As with the wins against Exeter Chiefs this time last year.

“That’s a bit romantic to think about that in some ways. As a player, you try to learn from stuff that happened. We won at Exeter away which was a really good result for us but then Exeter came (to Dublin) and started really well in the Aviva and they got an early try.

“I suppose you try to learn from mistakes you’ve made. I think we’ve enough on our plate, to play against a very good team in Bath in the Aviva, but then we have a lot to fix up and improve on and that’s not a bad place to be.”

Particularly when there was clear evidence of rustiness at the Rec. Furlong was among a host of Leinster players featuring for the province for the first time since October last Saturday. That fact was flagged beforehand but the sense was (here included) of a hurdle Leinster had cleared comfortably many times before. Still, the Wexford tighthead agreed that it was probably a factor given he had trained with the Ireland squad the Tuesday after the All Blacks game before being relieved of duties for the rest of the week. Bath was his reintroduction to game-time.

His time off was revealing. There was the pile of emails, phone calls and texts to catch up on. A few days away with his girlfriend.

The stuff that gets heaped on the back-burner in an Ireland camp that places such high demand on a player’s attention.

“The thing I always say, or you might hear a few people say, is when you’re on you are on. You’re constantly going and going and going. That’s it. But when you get a bit of down-time.... The first day is fine and then you just hit your slump and you’re like, ‘Jesus, I was tired there’ and you get a good rest. That’s what I feel like sometimes when you come out (of camp), get a few days off and you’re like, ‘oof’. You’re wrecked and it’s recharge the batteries time because you were in among it and it’s all hustle-bustle and go, go, go. You just go for it.”

It’s not a complaint. There is no self-pity. Furlong always spoke well about this generation’s hunger to match the successes of their predecessors at Leinster and he is adamant that the appetite has been whetted rather than sated by last season’s achievements. He is ready to go again.

“The ambition and the hunger is there and it is definitely driven from the top. It is a collective as well. You hate losing and you love winning so much that it drives you. You set a standard for yourself where you would hate to see yourself drop off a little. If you do, it hurts.”

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