Irish players in Japan should keep their phones charged, just ask John Hayes

The Bull was on the farm in Cappamore when the call came.

Euan Murray had just done an ankle during the win against Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth and Ian McGeechan needed another tighthead prop. So out John Hayes flew, to Durban, just days before the first Test.

“McGeechan asked me was I fit,” Hayes recalled. “I said ‘I don’t know about that but I’m fresh anyway’. I’d done nothing in about three weeks. I don’t know whether I was supposed to have kept training or not.

“I was at home and I’d done nothing, absolutely nothing. I played in two games, a midweek game and was then involved in the last Test. I was fresh.

“I don’t think I’d lost an awful lot of fitness because I’d played so much. It worked for me.

“If I were to play another game the week after I would have been flying. I was only getting going.”

That vignette proves just why the likes of Simon Zebo and Garry Ringrose should be keeping their phones charged in Japan and Hayes is convinced we will again see a late call-up featuring in the latest Lions Test series, in New Zealand.

If that all goes to show just how beneficial a break from the hamster wheel can be then it also highlights how much is being asked of those players who have already flown out, most of whom will be carrying knocks and niggles of some kind or other.

CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony among them.

Avoiding further injury is obviously critical to those on tour with Warren Gatland and Hayes knows from his own involvements in 2005 and ‘09 the change of scenery and hype involved with the Lions can act as fillips to players left weary by the season to date.

He played four provincial matches in New Zealand a dozen years ago and, though the tour was blighted by a 3-0 Test loss, the injury to Brian O’Driscoll and the poisonous atmosphere surrounding it all, Hayes remembers it fondly.

“I didn’t play well against Argentina in the first game. We were lucky to get a draw. I didn’t know then whether I would ever be in the Test team.

“Then it just happened we had a lot of craic in that midweek squad.

It became clear who was going to be in the Test team at the start of it.

“It looked to have been tougher for them. We were on a different bus even. We’d be pulling into training and they’d be pulling out. We’d have better craic warming up at training whereas with them it was straight down to business.”

Lessons were at least learned from it all.

The last two tours have attempted to marry some of the old Lions traditions with the modern realities of the game but enjoyment for most of those involved will still come down to personal involvement and the win-loss columns.

Tadhg Furlong is one of those from whom big things are expected and Hayes has no doubt but the Wexford man has it in him to be among the front row of stars for the Lions if he can bring his best form with him.

“It has been a long season for him and it will be a big ask for him to continue doing it into July. That’s a long way from here even at this stage but he could be the man for the job. He has an all-round game, there are no ifs or buts about it.

“His scrummaging is good, his ball-carrying is good, his breakdown is top class. You see him at the breakdown, he is like a back row. Even (Australia’s) Dean Mumm got sin-binned trying to lift him off a ball in the autumn. He is an all-round player. That really marks out a top-class operator.”

Furlong isn’t the only tighthead to catch his attention recently. John Ryan is the first name to be mentioned when talk turns to Munster and Hayes is eager for the province to build on the promise shown in a traumatic season just gone when they lost Anthony Foley and reached the Guinness PRO12 final.

“There will be different challenges (next season), yeah. We will see what happens. Every year the players are a year older and more experienced. Hopefully they will learn from that and be the better for it.

“Next year won’t be based so much on emotion, it will be more about getting the job done. They have had a taste now and go on and win it.”

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