Learning little things every time

You know you’ve arrived on a Lions tour when supporters from four nations sing songs in your honour.
Learning little things every time

It happened to “Ohhhh, Ma-ro Ito-je”

, the English lock and baby of the Lions squad whose ferocious performances in red got the Seven Nation Army treatment during the second Test against the All Blacks in Wellington.

While ahead of the third Test, Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong was the new darling of the 20,000-plus Lions supporters in Auckland. Somewhere in the fanzone down by Viaduct Harbour as the masses assembled for another big night on the town, the tune to Que Sera Sera was abducted and a star was born.

“Tadhg Fur-Long, Fur-Long,

“He’s big and he’s fucking strong,

“He’s right at the heart of the scrum,

“Tadhg Fur-long, Fur-long"

The man himself, who made his third Test start for the Lions at Eden Park on Saturday night, has grown used to the attention after playing the All Blacks for the first time on Ireland duty in Chicago last November, the first of five such encounters this season.

The second Test marked his second win in four starts against the world champions and Saturday’s 15-15 draw means he has only lost twice in five contests.

That is worth its weight in gold to these 2017 Lions players, believes head coach Warren Gatland.

“If you’re a player like Tadhg Furlong and you’ve played the All Blacks five times, won twice, lost twice and drawn one, that’s not a bad record for anybody.

“You get belief and confidence from performances and results. The mind is pretty powerful in that regard.

“For a lot of those players that have now beaten the All Blacks and drawn against the All Blacks, that’s going to be important in delivering that message about how to do it and building confidence.”

It has been some journey for a 24-year-old who felt the Lions was not on his radar until Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster planted the idea in his mind after the win in Chicago.

Since then and his first of six tussles with the Crusaders and All Blacks loosehead Joe Moody, the tighthead has been trying to dampen expectation that he was a shoo-in for the Lions number three jersey.

“I played it down because that is how I felt at the time. I wasn’t intentionally playing it down. I was trying to escape some of the attention. I didn’t see myself in the picture because Chicago was only my second (Ireland) start and I didn’t have a whole lot of experience.

“Being a part of it, early on, it’s tough because you have two games a week and any sort of thing you learn through your career about match preparation and having a full week of running 15 on 15 and different situations probably goes out the window a little bit.

“In that sense, it was challenging. Probably early on in the tour you are thinking to yourself ‘this is tough’. It’s probably a lot more than you expect when you come on a Lions tour but towards the end when you start tapering off and getting into Test matches, it became hugely enjoyable.

“It’s probably tinged with a small bit of disappointment tonight, that kind of weird feeling coming off a draw in a Test series but overall I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and made some really good friends.”

Getting to know Moody at close quarters could be regarded as an occupational hazard but Furlong has more than held his own and the pair shared a drink together after Saturday’s draw.

“It’s actually the sixth time I’ve played against Joe Moody this year. For southern and northern hemisphere it’s pretty mad, isn’t it?

“I shared a beer with him, last year, had a chat with him, he’s a good fella.

“But I’m looking forward to not seeing him facing me in the scrum, not for the next little bit anyway! He’s a hell of a scrummager.”

And Furlong feels all the better for his battles with the All Black prop.

“If you’re looking to coach a scrum, the way they do it and the pressure they put on opposition ball through that loosehead and hooker coming across the scrum, sometimes it can border on the law but it’s just trying to get that with different people around you,” the Wicklow man said.

“I suppose (Lions scrum coach) Graham Rowntree would coach a slightly different way then we would in Ireland (under former All Black Greg Feek), so you’re exposed to all these different things and you are problem-solving under pressure. We had a look at it at half-time and I thought we problem solved pretty well out there.

“It’s weird when you play the same prop four times in five weeks, you’re learning little things every time. He might bring something different and it’s just constantly trying to adapt and problem-solve on the pitch.”

Lancaster sent Furlong a text on Saturday night. “He said: ‘Well done on the series, looking forward to catching up when you’re back in.’ Furlong certainly feels he will return to Leinster and Ireland a better player for his experience over the past two months.

“I’ve learnt a hell of a lot, I’ve been exposed to different coaching methods, players, and ideas around the scrum and general field.

“From an experience point of view, I don’t think matches come much bigger than this; especially the occasion and pressure that’s on you, eyes from the four nations.

“I think I definitely grew within the tour.”

And the song?

Furlong was sent a video of it taken from the fanzone ahead of the final Test via his Twitter account.

“Very humbling. It’s kind of hard to explain, having a song about you but it’s pretty cool seeing that on social media.”

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