Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath hungry to make mark

Young props Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath are hoping they get the opportunity to take Romania on in their strongest department at Wembley this Saturday with McGrath warning the Irish pack must be “switched on” to the scrummaging challenge ahead.

Romania may be massive outsiders in the betting for this weekend’s Pool D clash but with a front row dominated by French-based players their scrum is understandably an area of interest for the Irish management as they continue preparations at their St George’s Park training base in the English midlands.

Changes in personnel from last Saturday’s opening win over Canada are on the cards for this meeting with a team ranked just one place above Ireland’s first opponents at number 17 in the world. Yet while both Furlong and McGrath remained unsure, in public at least, about whether they would feature against Romania, the Irish squad’s entire front row contingent have been doing their homework on Sunday’s rivals.

“It’s their number one go-to thing,” McGrath said yesterday. “With (Mihaita) Lazar, (Horatio) Pungea and (Paulica) Ion all playing in the French league, they’re pretty experienced and, having won the Nations Cup this year, that was a massive focal point for them.

“The scrum was their go-to attacking weapon, so we have to be switched on and we had a good meeting earlier on, we’ve clued in and we’ll have a good (scrummaging) session later.”

Having won his first two Test caps during the pre-tournament matches against Wales and England, Leinster’s Furlong, 22, is itching to get his first taste of the World Cup having been a spectator for the opening match in the Millennium Stadium.

The surprise of his selection as Ireland’s fifth prop behind tightheads Mike Ross and Nathan White and looseheads Cian Healy and McGrath was intensified by head coach Joe Schmidt’s backing of the international rookie as cover for both sides of the scrum, despite Furlong having played all but a few minutes of senior rugby at tighthead.

When the Wexford man began his pre-season with Ireland, he had not considered he might have a role to play at loosehead as well.

“I suppose in the pre-season we were speculating how many props we might take – five or six. If it was five, there was going to be one dual. It probably didn’t pop into my head until later in the pre-season, could I play loosehead? I’ve basically been tighthead all the way through.

“I suppose I would have played a small bit in training with Leinster last year and year before. I would have played some underage stuff; Irish Under 20s, I would have played loosehead so it wasn’t completely alien to me.

“Obviously there were question marks about if I could play at international level because it’s a huge jump, as you can imagine, from Irish U-20s and Leinster training up to international level.

“I suppose I found out that I was going to be on the bench at loosehead in the England week and I got training where you’re scrummaging against Mike Ross and Nathan White.

“Your confidence builds against them and in how you’re doing against them. Was it difficult to switch in and out of the separate roles, Furlong was asked.

“Not really as long as there’s clarity at the start of the week so I can get my head around it,” he replied. “Obviously there’s two different maps around the field from phases; off the lineout, off the scrum – you’re doing two different jobs so there’s a lot of learning that way.

“In terms of scrummaging, I’d pretty confident that if I got a few reps in during the week, just to get my head associated with it again, that I’d be comfortable with it.”

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