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6 Nations

Furlong: Fiji Are Well Coached, Physical And Direct

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The most-capped member of the starting XV with 61 caps, Furlong is looking forward to leading his country for the first time, ranking it up there in terms of career highlights as ‘something no one will ever take away from you’.

He is anticipating a strong performance from Fiji who only trailed Scotland by two points at half-time in Edinburgh last weekend, while Ireland only had three points to spare (23-20) when the sides last locked horns five years ago.

“It is different, but it’s still a challenge and especially for the group that we have,” admitted Furlong, speaking about moving on from playing reigning World champions South Africa to hosting the 11th-ranked Fijians.

“It’s the opportunity that lies in front of us and how we can be good, how we can drive it on…I think Fiji are playing really good rugby. I think they’re very well coached and they’re very physical, very direct.

“Obviously they have all the flare in the world out the back that they can score tries from nothing. I think we’re under no illusions about the size of the game at the weekend.”

Furlong is cognisant of the significance of his selection as captain, given the rareness of a prop leading the national team, his own rise from the youth ranks like Shane Horgan and Sean O’Brien, and the fact that he hails from Wexford.

The most recent props to captain the Ireland were Nick Popplewell (against Japan in 1995), Reggie Corrigan (against Tonga in 2003), and Simon Best during the 2007 summer tour to Argentina.

A proud product of New Ross Rugby Club, Furlong can also look back in the annals of Irish Rugby history for inspiration. Fellow Wexford man Karl Mullen, a native of Courtown, captained Ireland in their 1948 Grand Slam campaign and the British & Irish Lions two years later.

Asked by head coach Andy Farrell on Monday if he would lead the team if ‘fit and ready to go’, the 29-year-old tighthead has recovered quickly from the ankle injury he picked up against the Springboks.

Furlong has been part of Ireland’s leadership group since the early days of Farrell’s coaching reign, so was an obvious choice as skipper given the personnel changes this week and his standing amongst the group.

Despite that, he admits captaining the team was not something he envisaged doing, even when growing up on the family farm in Campile. He joked that his childhood dreams were more about ‘spuds, gravy, and mother’s Sunday roast’.

“It’s class, obviously look I didn’t know if I’d be playing or not to be perfectly honest with you. It’s class (to be captain). It’s not something I ever thought would be on my radar, to be honest.

To get an opportunity to captain the team is special. You know when you dream as a young fella, you want to play for Ireland, you want to play for Leinster, you want to play for the Lions…I never even dreamed of captaining Ireland.

“Look, I know it’s for a game. I know it’s not captaining your country week in, week out, but it’s still class. It’s still a class feeling. I know from people back home, they’ll be very proud, etc. So it’s great.”

Furlong’s captaincy experience is limited to a stint with the Ireland Under-18 Clubs team back in 2010, a side that produced a number of future professional players including Kieran Marmion, Alan O’Connor, Tom Daly, Eoghan Masterson, Jack Carty, Chris Farrell and Shane Layden.

The IRFU’s underage clubs pathway continues to produce promising players with plenty of talent – the current crop won 43-10 against Italy in Rome last Saturday – and Furlong also acknowledged the development of his Wexford compatriot Brien Deeny, the 22-year-old Leinster lock.

Shane Horgan would have came through (the non-traditional route), Seanie (O’Brien) comes through, I immediately identify with those people because they’re from a similar background. John Hayes the same. It’s easy to identify.

“We’re lucky now that there’s so much more of us coming through, especially in the professional game in general in Ireland. So you don’t have to look all that far anymore, whereas it was only two or three back in my day. It’s more accessible now.

“It’s not like it’s just Sean O’Brien and Tullow. It would be a Wexford Wanderers fella looking up to Brian Deeny who’s playing in Leinster now. It has become far more local than regional where it was before and it’s only good for the game, you know?”

Of his time captaining that Ireland U-18 team, he admitted: “That’s going back, boy. It was a lot of blood and guts, banging tables and stuff back then.

“I’ve been lucky to be involved in a lot of good teams with a lot of good captains. It’s just trying to fit your way in and enjoy it as well, as much as anything.”

Furlong has had to adapt to modern rugby’s more player-driven environment, with his captain with Leinster and Ireland, Jonathan Sexton, noting last week how the prop has ‘really come out of his shell over the last couple of years’.

Slightly hesitant at first, the Leinster front rower feels being a leader within the national camp is a more natural fit now for someone who Sexton has hailed for his ‘outstanding rugby brain’ and having ‘his finger on the pulse’.

“I suppose there was a time where players were about doing their job, putting the blinkers on and getting about with your business,” explained Furlong.

“People have changed, rugby has changed, in terms of more rounded, holistic environments, and wanting people’s opinions, wanting people to be themselves, wanting people to want to learn and not be afraid to ask for advice and be vulnerable a small bit.

“I had no clue of it. None of it. It’s something I didn’t know how to approach at the start. I think as a leadership group we probably didn’t, we were quite quiet. ‘What does Faz want?’…but as we grow and the years went on, it came more natural to us.”

Furlong wants to ‘make the most out of the weekend’ and his time as Ireland captain, a role Farrell said he was ‘the obvious choice’ for as they look to make it two wins out of two in the Bank of Ireland Nations Series.

“We’ve documented quite a bit over the last period of time just how much his leadership has come on and his standing within the group, so I am a big believer in how people make people feel,” said the Ireland boss.

“Not just during the week but beforehand in the dressing-room just before they go out, and he becomes the obvious choice with that.

“You’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin, haven’t you? You have to be across your own detail, your own game and understand what the team needs and how you go about playing our own game under the scrutiny of a Test match itself and with everything that goes with that.

“And then you are able to care about others. We have a lot of lads who are able to do that and Tadhg has figured it out more than most.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


6 Nations

Ireland’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations Home Games To Be Played At Musgrave Park

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Ireland’s home matches in the 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations will be played at Musgrave Park.

The Cork venue has been the home of the Ireland U20s since 2019 and has become a real fortress in recent seasons, with Ireland Women also enjoying huge support there when they defeated Italy at Musgrave Park in last year’s Six Nations.

Greg McWilliams‘ side open their 2023 Championship against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, 25th March (2.15pm) before welcoming France to Cork in Round 2 on Saturday, 1st April (3.15pm). After a rest weekend, Ireland will be on the road again, going head-to-head with Italy in Parma on Saturday, 15th April (4.45pm).

World Cup finalists England will visit Musgrave Park in Round 4 on Saturday, 22nd April (2.15pm) and the Championship will conclude with a trip to Edinburgh to take on Scotland at the DAM Health Stadium on Saturday, 29th April (7.30pm).

“We received huge home support during last year’s Six Nations and we’re excited to make Cork our home base for the 2023 Championship,” McWilliams said. “We enjoyed a good day out against Italy last year, with the people of Cork coming out to support the team and we will be hoping for more of the same in 2023, as two of the best teams in women’s rugby come to visit.”

Ticket details for Ireland’s home matches at Musgrave Park will be announced in due course.

TikTok Women’s Six Nations Fixtures 2023:

  • Wales v Ireland, Saturday 25 March, Cardiff Arms Park, 2.15pm
  • Ireland v France, Saturday 1 April, Musgrave Park, 3.15pm
  • Italy v Ireland, Saturday 15 April, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 4.45pm
  • Ireland v England, Saturday 22 April, Musgrave Park, 2.15pm
  • Scotland v Ireland, Saturday 29 April, DAM Health Stadium, 7.30pm.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Leading Rugby Stakeholders Unite To Consider Future Of Rugby

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Rugby’s major stakeholders have united to consider the short and long-term insights and priorities for ensuring the sport is a relevant, accessible and attractive sport for all as it grows over the next decade.

The World Rugby Shape of the Game conference, hosted in London, gathered leading coaching, playing, officiating, medical and event owner minds to consider how to build a better game for all, focusing on safety and spectacle. Underpinning that mission is the ongoing prioritisation of player welfare, while fostering an environment that is simpler, more accessible and more attractive.

It will be followed by similar conferences on the elite women’s 15s and community games as the sport looks to growth opportunities over the next decade. The process will also consider fan views and general sport and entertainment considerations to create a holistic approach to the future of the sport.

Over two days, delegates considered the global welfare landscape, including reinforcing the data regarding the relative safety of the community and age-grade game, global playing trends and the role of match officials, the narrative around the sport with all participants focused on the bigger picture.

The conference identified key areas for further exploration:

• Focus on the fan: Insights from fans and broadcasters to inform the longer-term development of the sport as an entertainment product

• Speed up the game: Focus on interventions and innovations to reduce stoppages, increase continuity and the rhythm of the game

• Support match officials: Provide them with the tools to perform their role to their best ability, consider TMO intervention reductions

• Underpin with player welfare: Continue to implement evidence-based strategies to mitigate head injuries and overall injuries in the sport

• Change the narrative: The community game is the lifeblood of the sport, the risk of injury is much less than that of the elite game, focus on the benefits while managing the risks

World Rugby will take away the considerations and insights for further exploration to prioritise areas that can be implemented in the short term without changing law ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said:

“As a sport, a movement and a family, we must always challenge ourselves to be better. That means taking time to consider what fans and players want the future of our sport to be, a future where more people want to play and support the game, where injury risk is reducing and where all involved in the game have their say.

“This conference was the first step towards a reimagination of our sport. The full and frank contributions from a wide spectrum of disciplines gives us plenty to consider and to move forward with through our structures. I would like to thank all participants for taking time out at a busy time to unite, collaborate and consider our future.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

England side to face Springboks

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England host the Springboks at Twickenham Stadium in their final Autumn Nations Series game on Saturday 26 November (5.30pm KO).

Manu Tuilagi will make his 50th appearance for England at outside centre, having made his debut for England against Wales in August 2011. Owen Farrell will again captain the side at inside centre.

Marcus Smith is at fly half and Jack van Poortvliet is at scrum half. Tommy Freeman comes in at right wing, Jonny May is at left wing and Freddie Steward is full back.

Jamie George (hooker) and Mako Vunipola join fellow prop Kyle Sinckler in two changes to the starting front row. Maro Itoje and Jonny Hill stay at lock. Alex Coles comes in at flanker with Tom Curry, while Billy Vunipola is No.8.

Last weekend’s double-try scorer Will Stuart is named as a finisher along with Luke Cowan-Dickie, David Ribbans, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, Henry Slade and vice-captains Ellis Genge and Jack Nowell.

“This is our last game of the autumn and our chance to continue building on the improvements we have made throughout the matches,” said Jones. “We have made steady progress from game-to-game, culminating in a pulsating draw against New Zealand.

“Now we have the chance to test ourselves against the might of the world champions. We’re going out there to light the crowd up. The support at Twickenham was outstanding last week and we want to work hard on the pitch to make sure we have another atmosphere like that again on Saturday.”

Squad

Starters

15. Freddie Steward

14. Tommy Freeman

13. Manu Tuilagi

12. Owen Farrell (C)

11. Jonny May

10. Marcus Smith

9. Jack van Poortvliet

1. Mako Vunipola

2. Jamie George

3. Kyle Sinckler

4. Maro Itoje

5. Jonny Hill

6. Alex Coles

7. Tom Curry

8. Billy Vunipola

Finishers

16. Luke Cowan-Dickie

17. Ellis Genge

18. Will Stuart

19. David Ribbans

20. Sam Simmonds

21. Ben Youngs

22. Henry Slade

23. Jack Nowell


Images & Content from England Rugby
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