Ken Owens has lauded Lions front-row team-mate Tadhg Furlong ahead of Saturday’s third Test against South Africa, saying that the Irish prop is an even better player now than he was four years ago.
Owen, 34, and Furlong, 28, were both on the 2017 tour to New Zealand when the Lions drew the series with the All Blacks following a 15-15 draw in the final Test. Furlong was an ever-present at tighthead, as he has been in this series with the Springboks, and for the final game at Cape Town Stadium the Leinster and Ireland star will pack down alongside Scarlets and Wales duo Wyn Jones, at loosehead, and Owens, the hooker.
“Tadhg is an absolutely world-class front-row forward,” said Owens.
“Scrummaging-wise, he knows exactly what he wants from you as a hooker and what he needs.
“The work he does off the field is just unbelievable, the detail he goes into to make sure his scrummaging is spot on and what he expects of his hooker, loosehead, flanker.
“He leaves you in no doubt about what he expects from you, and I think he’s gone up a level from four years ago definitely with his experience around the place.
“He is definitely an all-round player now, and not just a scrummaging threat. He’s a lot more experienced from four years ago, but he’s added lots to his game since then as well.”
Owens will be making his first Test start for the Lions, having come off the bench in the first and third Tests of 2017 and in the first two against the world champions in Cape Town, while loosehead Jones, 28, makes his Test debut having been selected for the series opener, only to pull out with a shoulder injury.
The Scarlets’ hooker replaces Luke Cowan-Dickie, with Jones coming in at the expense of Mako Vunipola, the English duo dropping to the bench, and the forward pack needs to fix the problems that led to Springbok dominance at the set-piece in the second half of last week’s second Test.
“We know the challenge they bring, it is something they pride themselves on and something we pride ourselves on,” said Owens.
“The set-piece was pretty good the week before, we didn’t get some stuff right last week, so we know there are fix-ups there. Myself and Wyn coming in to start and freshen things up is going to be a huge challenge for us, but we are confident in each other’s ability, and the combination of myself, Wyn, and Tadhg has scrummaged before, so we are just looking forward to that challenge South Africa are going to bring.”