Furlong hails few days off as Ireland gear up for Samoa clash
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A couple of days off to wander around the compact but buzzing city of Fukuoka was just what Ireland needed to get their tournament back on track, according to tight-head prop Tadhg Furlong.
“It's been good for us, massively,” Furlong said ahead of Ireland’s final Pool A game, against the already eliminated Samoa on Saturday. "International rugby is a tough game. It’s nice to let the pressure valve go for a few days and then build it back up again.”
The 26-year-old made his international debut shortly before RWC 2015 and has since become one of the world’s best props, having started all three British and Irish Lions tests against New Zealand in 2017.
He’s also a thoroughly engaging character, not least when enthusing about why he prefers Fukuoka (population 1.58m) to “mad” and “manic” Tokyo.
On one of his days off, Furlong and some team-mates found a tiny restaurant serving Wagyu beef cooked on an open fire in front of them: “Japanese food is lovely, lads, but it's nice to get a nice bit of steak as well,” said the farmer’s son from Wexford.
Later, he liked the look of another restaurant but was unsure about the contents of a dish on the all-Japanese menu: “We got the Google Translate (app) out and it came up as 'fried chicken cartilage'. I'm all for embracing the culture, but that's a bit much for me.”
Furlong and Co made their excuses and left: “It was like ‘arigato!' (thank you).”
Other Ireland players are in charge coming up with entertainment options for a trip that could stretch to eight weeks, should Ireland make it to the final weekend; Furlong is a member of the three-man disciplinary committee.
While he says the veteran Rob Kearney is “a ruthless enough character” who’s well adept at dishing out fines and building up a kitty to fund the occasional night out, he reckons fellow committee member Garry Ringrose “needs more cut in him”.
The young centre, who has been arguably Ireland’s best player in Japan, “is so nice and polite”, Furlong says with mock complaint, adding: “Get the finger out, Garry – come on!”
Life in Japan, he says, “is different. You're so isolated. You're catching family in the early morning or the afternoon. You're not outside your comfort zone, but you're outside the normalities of general life in some ways. It's a completely different culture.
“You can’t fully immerse yourself in the nitty-gritty of it - you’re not a tourist. But I am enjoying the trip.”
He’ll enjoy it a lot more if Ireland can recover from two sub-par performances against Japan and Russia and qualify for the quarter-finals with a far more convincing display against the Samoans, in a game he will almost certainly start.
While the weekend off was welcome, the squad were back in their normal mode on Monday morning, glad to have a full week to prepare for a game they know will be crucial if confidence is to be restored, both inside and outside the squad bubble.
“You don't get away from what worked for you in the past or the normal routine. You don't go rewriting the book,” Furlong said.
“It feels like it’s very, very nearly there but probably just hasn’t clicked yet. It’s hard to put your finger on it. When we play really well, we can be really clinical. We hold onto the ball really well and we just don’t force it. Knuckle down, stick to what you’re good at - and be very efficient at it.”
On Saturday, he’s expecting “a massive challenge” from a team with nothing to lose. While mindful of Samoa’s physicality and flair, he doesn’t fully subscribe to the idea that Ireland’s intensity will return with a vengeance now that the stakes are so high.
“As a group, you probably don't look for reasons to get you fired up, do you? It's about what standard you hold yourself accountable to.”
Few front-row forwards have higher standards than the immensely powerful Furlong. Ireland will be hoping that he’s back to his rampaging best in Fukuoka.