Tadhg Furlong admits he has little idea what to expect from France’s young and unpredictable side this Sunday.
The visitors have an unchanged test side for the first time in 15 years— with the likes of Romain Ntamack (19), Antoine Dupont (22) and Damien Penaud (22) and Demba Bamba (20) starting once more. Furlong was on the bench when Ireland lost to France in 2016 – his first involvement against the country, but he’s been a starter in the last two tests, winning both Six Nations games in 2017 and 2018.
“They’re big men, very physical and they can play with that little bit of flair out the back and I think this year if you look at them they have that bit of consistency, they’re obviously picked the same team,” he said. “They have a lot of players who play with each other in Toulouse and Gael Fickou was there until last year.
“They have a young group of players who are able to play that offloading game, then they’re behind that gainline and they’re on top of ya. It’s hard to counteract that, the unknown. You don’t know if they’re going to play wide or kick short and start offloading or start picking and going, they’re unpredictable.”
While the talents of Ntamack and Dupont have been anticipated, the ProD2 tighthead prop Demba Bamba has caught the attention since his debut against Fiji.
His first Six Nations appearance came off the bench in the opening against Wales, and that was followed by starts against England and Scotland.
A key member of last year’s U20 France side that won the World Cup, the 20 year-old prop is still playing in the French second division – but he’s caught Furlong’s eye, making more carries than any other forward in the Scotland clash. “He is very young to be playing international rugby but if you look at him he is a very good athlete, isn’t he?” Furlong said.
“They have a fair few of those in the squad. Credit to them, it is not easy to play international rugby at that age and he is doing well.”
Does Furlong, a Lions tighthead, see any similarities between himself and the French youngster? “No, if you look at him, he is a really good ball player, he is quite dynamic. I think he played judo or did a bit of judo back in his day. His footwork, his change of direction into contact is very strong and winning that initial sort of first contact.
“It’s important that when you do try tackle him, you either go low and get your bite or it’s a two-man hit because he is hard man to stop.
“He looks like he knows what he is about, what he wants in the scrum.
“He’s a physical specimen of a man. But, look, at the same time, he still is a young prop. But we just try to look after our own stuff.
“As a forward pack, if there is an opportunity there to scrummage, we will definitely scrummage but we don’t go off in ones and twos and try to solve stuff ourselves.”
Furlong says Ireland’s week in Belfast was a welcome change of scenery, giving the squad a chance to “freshen up mentally and physically.” The mental aspect of things is perhaps more needed than the physical, after three rounds where Ireland failed to click.
“We’re just lacking that bit of accuracy where we hold onto the ball for three or four more phases ... It’s just about putting what we’re doing in training and bring accuracy into games where we’re making unusual errors for us.”