Tadhg Furlong admits he is no expert on the human psyche, but his assessment of the collective mood in the British & Irish Lions camp will give supporters all the encouragement they could hope for ahead of the second Test.
The Springbok backlash may well be coming at Cape Town Stadium Saturday evening as the world champions bid to take the series into a decisive final Test following their opening 22-17 defeat to the Lions six days ago. Yet Furlong, 28, who will be starting his fifth consecutive Lions Test having played in all three of the drawn series against New Zealand four years ago, senses brimming confidence within Warren Gatland’s squad and a willingness to match fire with fire.
“Lads are sharp,” said Furlong. “At training today, I thought the lads were really sharp. I think there’s a good energy about us, and there’s a nice bit of bite there, so everyone’s really looking forward to the weekend. You can feel that, you can feel that around the place.”
“You gauge it from training. Now I’m not a body language expert or vibe expert, whatever you want to call it, but you can just feel it, some weeks you can just feel it.
“It’s just there, nicely, we’re humming away, so can’t wait for the weekend and see how it transpires.”
For all the expectations of a South African fightback, Furlong says there is also more to come from the Lions this weekend if they manage to iron out the wrinkles that handed the Springboks a 12-3 half-time lead in the opening Test.
“I definitely think … there’s another few levels in us,” he said. “I thought when we created opportunities at times, we let a few of them slip. So absolutely, when the time is to play and we get a chance to play, we need to play.
“We’re just trying to go out and win the game, there’s not a whole lot more in it. It’s trying to mentally get back up the hill to go play another huge Test game. We have one in the back pocket if we lose, but it’s not about using that as an excuse or resting on those laurels.”
As for a change of approach from the Springboks, the Wexford prop doubts there will be much deviation from a gameplan deep-rooted in the South African rugby DNA, though adding the Lions are ready to adapt to any surprises.
“You don’t know, do you, but they are very good at what they do, and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if they came out and did that a little bit harder. They were probably a bit Test-match shy, and they have a big Test match in their legs now. I suppose we are planning for the same and also planning if they change it up to be adaptable.”
One thing is certain in Furlong’s mind is that they will be hurting after their defeat on home soil, and desperate to make amends.
“It is do-or-die, isn’t it? I was part of a group four years ago that would have had a similar mindset going into a second Test after losing the first. It is do-or-die, and it means so much for players on our side and players on their side and everything they have achieved. Everything is on the line.”
As always, the set-piece will set the tone in this rivalry, though last week it was at the centre of a significant momentum swing as early Springbok scrummaging dominance gave way to strong Lions fightback — hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie’s finish of a driving lineout maul with a try converted by Dan Biggar narrowing the 12-3 half-time lead, and providing the platform for victory.
It was a score described by former hooker Gatland as enjoyable as any try run in from 90m, and Furlong, who celebrated his fellow front-rower’s success with gusto, said: “I know they are both worth five points anyway. It was a big moment, it was very early on in the second half and chasing that lead, it was good to get a try that early on, and I was excited. Can you feel the shift? You’re back in it. When you get down and you have that lineout, five or seven metres out, you feel this is a big moment, and you get pumped up to go.”