Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong on England, scrum cheats … and his grandmother

Gerard Meagher

Tadhg Furlong found himself caught in the crossfire of a bizarre row between Wales and France over scrums this week. The legality of his scrummaging technique was questioned by the Wales forwards coach, Jonathan Humphreys, a full 10 days after their defeat by Ireland. Humphreys was particularly frustrated by a scrum penalty awarded to Ireland when Wales were threatening a try in the 63rd minute which would have pulled them back into contention but Furlong, who had already scored a try by that stage, defuses the argument in his own affable way.

“We try to push as square and straight as anyone,” he says. “They said we were scrummaging from left to right, in the quote I’ve just seen, which would be very, very square scrummaging. They probably could do with sorting out some of their stuff themselves, really, before looking at us. Not Wales but across the game, the trends are loose heads on big angles.”

Rows over scrums are nothing new but Furlong, who started all three Lions Tests in New Zealand in 2017 and has 46 caps to his name, seems a strange target. What’s more, the 27-year-old Furlong is approaching his best form again having, like many of his teammates, suffered a drop-off in a highly disappointing 2019 for Ireland.

So far in the Six Nations he has impressed in victories over Scotland and Wales, playing 78 minutes in the first match and 67 against Wales. Then came the first rest week, which included a couple of days in a training camp in Cork, followed by a trip to Whiddy Island, population 25-30 according to Furlong, to visit his grandmother.

“I went down to Whiddy. For the storm. It was blowing a gale out there. She was grand. She had the fire lighting – it’s like the cheap version of an Aga. She’s no central heating or anything.

“I stayed down with her Thursday, took a spin up to Kinsale and went back down to the nanny on Sunday because all the family were around then.”

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Furlong then reaches for his phone. “Let me show ye this: my cousin’s girlfriend – they went in to watch the game with nanny. I say nanny – she’s my grandmother. That’s her there now watching the telly, eyesight not great – she got the two cataracts done there up in Belfast.

“She’s up close to it. And here’s a quote – quote of the day from my grandmother: ‘If Sexton misses this one I’ll fuck him from all angles!’ That’s a direct quote from my grandmother! I think she’s 87-88 … she’s in fine fettle. Great craic. Not a bother on her.”

Furlong is evidently at ease as Ireland set about repeating their 2018 win over England at Twickenham on Sunday. Victory would keep them on course for another grand slam but since that mightily impressive triumph two years ago Ireland have been comprehensively beaten in their last two matches against England, in Dublin last year and a World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham in August. In mitigation for Ireland that day, England were further ahead in their World Cup preparations but Furlong concedes that the nature of the 57-15 defeat still hurts.

“Sure it’s easy to make a thousand excuses for it if you want but by God, did it hurt,” says Furlong. “Not to jinx it but you know you’re not going to put a team performance like that again. We had some really good memories of the previous time we’d played in Twickenham. I remember stepping into the Richmond Hill, our hotel, thinking: jeez, the last time we were here and the craic we had, what a few days we had.

“Obviously it didn’t materialise. Obviously this week you’re looking back at some of your most recent games against England. You look at that game and you think, jeez, how far off the pace we were! Some of the stuff we were doing – just general energy and stuff. Just so, so poor. You could make tons of excuses for it if you want but jeez if we play like that at the weekend, it will be the same result.”