Reluctant leader Tadhg Furlong gradually finding his voice

Tadhg Furlong did not think of himself much as a leader coming into the season.

Reluctant leader Tadhg Furlong gradually finding his voice

Tadhg Furlong did not think of himself much as a leader coming into the season.

He is a tighthead prop first and foremost and totally at home in a conversation about scrummaging but given the knowledge he has accumulated in more than 40 caps with Ireland and the British & Irish Lions, his new head coach felt it was about time the Wexford front-rower started contributing to the bigger picture.

At 27, Furlong has begun to come out of his comfort zone and take on some extra responsibility, a role formalised by his induction to the Irish player leadership group led by skipper Johnny Sexton, who credits his Leinster team-mate with hitting the ground running in that regard during this first Six Nations campaign under Andy Farrell.

“It’s the first time that I’ve been in a leadership group with him,” Sexton said of Furlong yesterday, “and he’s been brilliant.

“Tadhg’s got a great rugby brain, for a prop,” the captain joked. “He has a great rugby brain.

He’s one of a kind in that regard, in terms of being a tighthead prop and having an ability to know what’s happening in the game, even though his head is stuck in scrums and rucks.

“Off the pitch, he’s got his finger on the pulse, in terms of knowing the mood of the group. He’s been outstanding since he’s gone in there. It’s been good for him.”

As he prepares to face Wales in Dublin on Saturday, Furlong acknowledged leadership was not a natural fit for him.

“It’s something I felt I could add value to but at the same time you’re looking into a black hole because you’ve not done it,” the prop said of joining the leadership group with Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, and Garry Ringrose.

"Before we went to Portugal (two weeks ago for training), we turned up for the meeting and you’re not really sure how it works. Of course I was apprehensive, putting yourself out there.

“You learn. It’s very, very new to me in a lot of respects. Some of the stuff takes me massively outside of mycomfort zone.

“But that being said, Andy wants the team to really lead it and take responsibility and ownership. I like thinking about the game, I probably think about the game too much sometimes.

It’s nice to have that responsibility and a voice for the front-row.

Expanding on what exactly felt outside of his comfort zone, Furlong said: “Talking up in groups and stuff. If you’re talking scrums, it’s a very comfortable thing, you’ve been doing it for years, thinking about it and looking at it.

“Some of the general things, outside that aspect of play, I would find that uncomfortable. Some of the really culture-based things, what we stand for, not just on the pitch but as a group, that would be something that’s very new to me and something that challenges my thinking. It makes you think about it.

“That’s good for me in some ways, not just sitting on a pillow at night trying to get to sleep and thinking how we’re going to fix this or how we’re going to fix that or what’s going on with defence, it’s a nice break away from it and it stimulates your thinking.”

The new responsibilities have not impacted Furlong negatively in terms of his form and he added: “I think I am in a really good spot at the moment. The engine feels good, the body feels good. Injury wise, I’m good.

I’m just really looking forward to the weekend.

The cramp that entered his calf muscles during an extended, 77-minute shift against Scotland last Saturday has passed and Furlong is relishing a renewal with old foes Wales this weekend as the defending champions visit the Aviva Stadium fresh from a 42-0 win over Italy under new head coach Wayne Pivac.

“It’s massive. Ireland-Wales is always a ding-dong battle. They’ll be pumped coming to Dublin off the back of a big result, a new coaching team, new staff, wanting to lay down a marker, Grand Slam champions looking to regain the Six Nations.

"They’ll be coming here to put down a marker and it’s up to us to put down a marker ourselves.”

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