Two-time tourist Furlong set for big Lions impact as Aki makes presence felt
Two-time tourist Furlong set for big Lions impact as Aki makes presence felt

Two-time tourist Furlong set for big Lions impact as Aki makes presence felt

TADHG FURLONG WAS due to start his 2021 Lions campaign with an appearance off the bench against Japan tomorrow but an injury to Zander Fagerson means the Wexford man will start instead.

In doing so, Furlong essentially continues as the Lions’ starting tighthead, having worn the number three shirt for all three Tests in New Zealand in 2017.

Furlong was still only 24 at that stage but the tour established his position as one of the top tightheads in world rugby. Coming into this tour of South Africa, the Leinster and Ireland prop is perhaps the best of them all.

His performances in the Six Nations this year – following a year out of the game due to injury – were a timely reminder of how good Furlong can be and he is now in fine shape to take on a key role for the Lions again.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed for Zander, but then you have got someone like Tadhg, then Kyle [Sinckler] coming in, the quality is there,” said Lions assistant coach Steve Tandy in Edinburgh today.

“It has been awesome to work with Tadhg. It’s been unbelievable to work with all these players. I think they are all really good blokes, they are all keen to share and chat.

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“But Tadhg is really impressive. As a tighthead prop obviously scrummaging, which I don’t know a lot about, but in and around the park, for a big man, he moves really well.

“He understands the game and it has been really good to chat with him about how he sees defence and things. He has been a real pleasure to work with.”

Furlong at Murrayfield today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Furlong is one of the seven Irish players starting tomorrow’s meeting with the Lions, with Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Iain Henderson, Conor Murray, and the centre pairing of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw also in Warren Gatland’s XV.

Leinster number eight Conan and Connacht midfielder Aki were surprise picks in the Lions squad, meaning it will be fascinating to see exactly what Gatland and co. look to get from them.

Aki is renowned as a vocal and energetic presence in the Connacht and Ireland teams, and he has made a similar impact with the Lions at their training camp in Jersey over the past fortnight.

“He has been outstanding,” said Tandy. “He has been great. I know it sounds that I’ve got to say it, but every player that has come in, they have been fantastic to work with.

“It has been a real pleasure for me to see how quickly boys take up messages and how fast they move. They are absolutely quality within the squad.

“But Bundee has been excellent. You see him and Robbie Henshaw working around hand-in-hand together a lot of the time, so they are pretty connected as well.

“You see those boys getting ready to play at the weekend and I’m just really excited to see them go.”

Bundee Aki starts in the number 12 shirt tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Tandy is the man in charge of the Lions’ defence, so he would have been pleased to see Aki delivering a massive, tone-setting hit in the first week of training in Jersey – a tackle that grabbed his team-mates’ attention.

“Look, we had a little bit of a live [contact session] and you could see there was no quarter given in there,” said Tandy. “Everyone is going for it.

“Bundee, obviously that is a real strength of his, but I also think with Bundee, his foot movement, his actual reading of plays as well is absolute quality.

“But in fairness, everyone has come in, the quality of the physical contact and things in training, we haven’t had obscene amounts of it, but you can see the mindset is really positive.”