As a starting test Lion widely regarded as world-class, plenty is expected of Tadhg Furlong. He hit the ground running in the opening game against Scotland, but like almost everyone else he didn’t scale those heights against Japan.
Ask him how he feels his form is and he says: “Okay. Like, it’s tough. Playing rugby at World Cups is tough. Teams, the way defences are now, it’s tough going. Scrum rules change – it’s how you adapt to them. I suppose I’m the same as everyone else really. There’s a few little bits of the game that you’d like to tidy up.”
It’s a similar scenario as a collective.
“It feels like it’s very, very nearly there but probably just hasn’t clicked yet. It is hard to put your finger on it. You try to hold onto the ball a little bit better, go through a few more phases, get on to the front foot.”
You put yourself in their shoes and think about what they are thinking and it is their last game in the World Cup: they have a lot to prove
“I suppose when we play really well, we can be really clinical. We hold onto the ball really well and I suppose we just don’t force it. It’s just I suppose knuckle down and stick to what you’re good at and be very efficient at it.”
Technically, Samoa may have nothing left to play for given their hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the first time since 1995 have been extinguished. But no one is buying that, least of all Furlong.
“You put yourself in their shoes and think about what they are thinking and it is their last game in the World Cup: they have a lot to prove. They are a proud nation and I don’t think any of the player group or staff here is thinking that.”
Furlong is at his second World Cup, albeit his inclusion in the squad four years ago was as much an investment in his undoubted talent for the future.
“I suppose it does give you a general gist as to what to expect – even though I had limited knowledge of the last World Cup. I was covering fullback for a lot of it because the other four props were fit for the whole thing! I was running wing and fullback, so I probably learnt more about how the pendulum works in the backfield and grass cover,” he laughed.
“But yeah, the experience helps in terms of changing bases and stuff like that.”
Fukuoka is another huge sprawling Japanese city of high rise buildings, mostly surrounded by mountains save for the coastline which is a a half-hour away by car. Furlong is enjoying the squad’s buzzy downtown base after their zen-like castle retreat before the Japanese game and the removed man-made island in Kobe, which was likened to Shutter Island.
“Nice few days off, it’s a nice little city this, isn’t it? I’ve got around a bit. It’s not too manic compared to the likes of Tokyo. It’s chilled, you can find your way around.”
After the intensity of the warm-up schedule and three World Cup pool matches in a 12-day period, Furlong also believes the time-out was hugely beneficial for all concerned.
“I think it’s been good for us, massively. International rugby is a tough game, I might have spoken before about the mental side as well as the physical side. To play three games at a World Cup, a big event, it’s nice to let the pressure valve go for a few days and then build it back up again.”
We found a place, got the Google-translate out and it came up as ‘fried chicken cartilage’
Furlong also revealed he went out for a steak on one of his first nights here. “Japanese food is lovely lads, but it’s nice to get a nice bit of steak as well. It was top notch, tiny little place. It reminds me of The Butcher’s Grill in Ranelagh.”
“You go through the front door and you’ve to stoop down to get into it. They cook up a load of Wagyu beef, bring out the board and they cook it in front of you with an open fire. It’s lovely.
Pottered around, there’s a little market outside the hotel. It’s just nice down by the river.
“I haven’t tried the yatais,” he admitted of the outdoor, pop-up little restaurants along the riverfront, which are a Fukuoka custom.
“Ramen? Gyoza? Two of my favourites now,” he said of two Japanese specialities.
“We were in a place the other day, you just potter out for lunch and it’s hard to find restaurants because the name is in Japanese. We found a place, got the Google-translate out and it came up as ‘fried chicken cartilage’. I’m all for embracing the culture, but that’s a bit much for me. So, it was like ‘arigato!’”, ie thanks, he admitted.