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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

Wales team to face Ireland in Dublin named

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Senior men’s head coach Warren Gatland has named the Wales side to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the third round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations on Saturday 24 February (KO 2.15pm live on ITV and S4C).

There is one change to the starting XV that played England at Twickenham on 10 February, with Sam Costelow returning for Wales at fly half.

Among the replacements back-row Mackenzie Martin is in line to win his first senior cap this weekend and would become the 1,200th Wales men’s international.

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Tight-head prop Dillon Lewis would be making his first appearance of this Championship if called on from the bench.

Gatland said: “We are excited to go out to Dublin and test ourselves against one of the leading sides in world rugby. It’s a challenge we are relishing.

“We’ve made steps in the last couple of games and now it’s about building on that, learning from those experiences and taking that into this weekend.

“It’s about continuing to work hard, looking for accuracy in our performance across 80 minutes and also keeping our discipline.”

Wales senior men’s team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 24 February KO 2.15pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C.
15. Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 56 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 119 caps)
12. Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 34 caps)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 16 caps)
10. Sam Costelow (Scarlets – 9 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 55 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 27 caps)
2. Elliot Dee (Dragons – 48 caps)
3. Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby – 4 caps)
4. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 14 caps) Captain / Capten
5. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 53 caps)
6. Alex Mann (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
7. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 15 caps)
8. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 45 caps)

Replacements

16. Ryan Elias (Scarlets – 40 caps)
17. Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Harlequins – 54 caps)
19. Will Rowlands (Racing 92 – 30 caps)
20. Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
21. Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 19 caps)
22. Ioan Lloyd (Scarlets – 4 caps)
23. Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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6 Nations

Jager and Ahern Join Ireland Squad Ahead Of Wales

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The Ireland squad re-assembled in Dublin on Sunday evening ahead of this weekend’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations Round 3 clash against Wales at Aviva Stadium (Kick-off 2.15pm).

Prop Oli Jager has joined the squad and Thomas Ahern has also linked up with Andy Farrell‘s side at the IRFU High Performance Centre this week.

Iain Henderson picked up a foot injury during Ulster’s URC game away to Ospreys on Sunday and there will be a further update later in the week.

The Ireland Match Day Squad to face Wales at Aviva Stadium will be named on Thursday at 2pm.

Ireland Squad – Wales Week: 

Backs (15):

Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht)
Harry Byrne (UCD/Leinster)
Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Ciaran Frawley (UCD/Leinster)
Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster)
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
James Lowe (Leinster)
Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/Ulster)
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
Calvin Nash (Young Munster/Munster)
Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster)
Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster)

Forwards (21):

Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster)*
Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster)
Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Caelan Doris (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster)
Oli Jager (Munster)*
Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jeremy Loughman (Garryowen/Munster)
Joe McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster)
Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)(captain)
Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster)
James Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
Dan Sheehan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Tom Stewart (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Nick Timoney (Banbridge/Ulster)
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster)

*Denotes uncapped player

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

O’Connell Gives Update On Keenan As Ireland Return To Training

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Hugo Keenan is Ireland’s main injury concern ahead of Saturday week’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations clash with Wales. The ever-influential full-back took a blow to his left knee during the win over Italy.

Keenan sustained the injury when falling awkwardly in a 52nd-minute tackle from Italian replacement Giosuè Zilocchi. He was replaced shortly afterwards by Harry Byrne, with Jack Crowley switching to the full-back position.

The 27-year-old Dubliner has become central to Andy Farrell’s plans in a short space of time, with his 15s international debut coming just over three years ago. He has accumulated more match minutes than any other player so far during Farrell’s coaching reign.

He has started 38 of Ireland’s last 42 Test matches, and Jimmy O’Brien and Michael Lowry are the only other players who have worn the number 15 jersey during that time.

Asked about Keenan’s likely availability for the third round of the Six Nations, Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Hugo didn’t train today, but he hasn’t been ruled out for the Welsh game yet.

“He’s progressing with his rehabilitation, he was there at training today and took part in the organisational bits, but I have no full update. He’s still available for selection for Wales, but I’m not sure what will happen in the next few days.

“He plays a big role, he’s obviously been injury-free for a long time. He’s an excellent player and in full-back, covering the back-field defensively, he has a lot of work to do in attack as well, recreating our attack by moving side to side.

“There’s a lot of IP (intellectual property) there that we might miss out on if he wasn’t playing. He also plays a big leadership role for us, he’s a very smart guy.

“He’s a problem-solver within the group and highly regarded within the group. Whether he’s there or not, he’ll continue to play that role.”

Keenan has had a strong start to the tournament, with his individual highlights including his try-saving tackles on Damian Penaud, including one which drove the French dangerman back a few feet, and an electric break against Italy from Craig Casey’s kick over the top.

He has an 85.7% tackle success rate, including two dominant hits and a turnover tackle. In attack, he has had gain-line success with two-thirds of his carries in the Championship, and has the team’s best tackle evasion rate of 47.1%.

If the Leinster star is ruled out when Ireland resume their campaign next week, the versatile Ciaran Frawley, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Calvin Nash, or indeed Crowley, could be options to fill the full-back berth.

Larmour, who returned to international action last Sunday for the first time since 2021, made nine starts at full-back between 2018 and 2020. Farrell handed him the number 15 shirt for his first game in charge of Ireland four years ago.

Last August against Italy, Frawley made his debut as a half-time replacement for O’Brien at full-back. He has started six times in the position for Leinster this season, with Stockdale, Nash and Crowley also having provincial experience in the back-field.

As O’Brien and Mack Hansen are also injury-enforced absentees, O’Connell admits that it could provide an opportunity to build more depth in that area if Keenan is unable to recover in time.

“It’s good for us in some ways because it makes us play someone else there if he doesn’t make it,” commented the Limerick man, who is in his fourth Men’s Six Nations campaign as part of the Ireland coaching group.

“I’m not sure yet, I don’t pay as much attention to the backs, but I’m not sure yet where  Hugo is at. As I said, he was around training today, so we’d be hopeful.”

Meanwhile, Garry Ringrose is on track to play some part against Wales at the Aviva Stadium having returned to training. He missed the opening two rounds due to a shoulder injury.

“Yeah it looks like it, he trained today,” O’Connell said of Ringrose. “We didn’t do a massive session today but he trained today and was in good shape.

“No one else sat out training, no, so they’re all good to go, I believe.”

That includes captain Peter O’Mahony (calf), Tadhg Furlong (calf), and Bundee Aki (knee), who all sat out the 36-0 bonus point victory over Italy as they recovered from their respective knocks.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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