Dedicated Tadhg Furlong always pushing for perfection

The party line from Leinster is that any and all compliments being delivered their way lately are being blocked abruptly at the door and Tadhg Furlong is adopting the same approach when it comes to garlands foisted upon him.

It must be tempting to usher in the adulation.

Furlong is part of a Leinster side travelling to Montpellier this weekend aiming to make it six wins from six in the Champions Cup and all but secure themselves the carrot of a last-four home tie when they line up for the quarter-finals.

The side is unbeaten in eight games across both competitions, playing stunning rugby on both sides of the ball and using a bewildering array of talent, young and old. Injuries haven’t slowed the collective down a jot.

Even better was a bulletin yesterday claiming there were no significant knocks arising from last weekend’s 55-19 defeat of Glasgow Warriors, though Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Rhys Ruddock, James Tracy, and Garry Ringrose all remain unavailable.

Furlong himself is in just as good a place. The go-to tighthead for Leinster and Ireland, he started all three Tests for the Lions in New Zealand last summer and has just signed a lucrative new contract to stay in both blue and green.

He is quite possibly the best tighthead prop in world rugby right now, but that’s not a description he directs at himself as he continues to punch in the extra hours after training and in front of the laptop.

“Best looking or best?” he joked. “Ten out of 10 for looks here. No, I’m kidding! Look, I personally wouldn’t view myself that way. You meet some people and they would be naturally confident or bordering on arrogance.

“I wouldn’t see myself in that way. I would put myself under pressure to play well. I would question myself. I’d look at video and say to myself, ‘you need to do this better, that better, that better’, and then look at how I can do that better.”

It isn’t some show of false modesty. He knows he is good and, at 25, his rate of improvement shows no sign of levelling out. The Lions trip and the senior role afforded him by Graham Rowntree was a big part in that.

He is very much the keystone to both Leinster’s and Ireland’s ambitions but, while he has all the hallmarks to lead, he isn’t a member of the province’s leadership group and won’t be seeking that membership any time soon.

“I always enjoyed the saying, ‘look after your own shop’, or, ‘if it’s to be it’s up to me’. So, a lot of the time I try to get my own ducks in a row and perform. I wouldn’t be massively vocal in team meetings or stuff like that. 

"I just try to earn my stripes and work hard. Maybe down the track, when you’re 27, 28, 29, you can sort of maybe think about that, but at the minute I’m happy enough to focus on myself and try to perform as best I can.”

It must help that everyone else is doing just dandy, too.

When Joe Schmidt arrived at Leinster, he pinpointed individual attacking skills as an obvious area in need of improvement and Furlong credits Stuart Lancaster with a similar influence as the province zeroes in on silverware. The results have been obvious.

James Lowe may be the poster boy for that sort of rugby at the club, but Furlong engineered one superb offload to a teammate in the Warriors’ 22 last weekend when almost smothered by the attentions of a number of opponents.

“It’s across the board: The emphasis on skills and being able to handle a ball with confidence. That you are not, sort of jittery trying to catch the thing. That you have the confidence to [stick] the hands out to catch it and be comfortable.”

Yet, for all his success and the team’s improvement, there are still too many among them who have yet to experience what it is to win a European game on French soil. Putting that right on Saturday would make for a significant step.

“It is big, as a collective group, that we can go to France and be competitive. It is something that hasn’t historically gone that well for us, certainly from my time in the organisation. Is it three seasons ago since we won in France? That’s a big motivation for the group.”

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