Saturday 14 December 2019

Our Grand Slam hero

Tadhg crowns special day with man of the match award

Tadhg Furlong celebrates with Devin Toner after Saturday’s Grand Slam-clinching victory over England in Twickenham
Tadhg Furlong celebrates with Devin Toner after Saturday’s Grand Slam-clinching victory over England in Twickenham

Brendan Furlong

When Tadhg Furlong was announced as man of the match in Ireland's dramatic 23-15 victory over England on Saturday, it signalled that a new crop of players had not just arrived but had delivered an epic third Grand Slam.

For Ireland it was their first Grand Slam since 2009, when a team with probably more household names such as captain Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Gordon D'Arcy and Ronan O'Gara, who kicked that dramatic late drop goal, delivered in the Millennium Stadium.

At that stage the country had been waiting patiently since 1948 when a side led by the great Jackie Kyle had delivered the first-ever Grand Slam.

This is a new generation of players, who have delivered under Joe Schmidt, as they are the first Irish side to have beaten the All Blacks, and their Grand Slam success has seen them rise to number two in the world, setting this group up for next year's World Cup.

Comparisons will always be made but one feels that this group of players have the toughness, maturity and skill to go to any venue in the world and deliver on that potential.

While the leadership of the older players needs to be acknowledged, this was complimented by youth.

And while Tadhg Furlong, at 25 years of age, is still young for a tight-head prop, his man of the match display signalled that he was now arrived and is the world's top player in his position.

When Furlong first emerged on the international scene having come through the under-age ranks, he had some road to travel.

But with the then Irish prop, Mike Ross, polishing him up on the art of scrummaging, followed by the top level coaching received within the national squad, the Horeswood native quickly emerged.

He went on to take over the position held by Ross for both Leinster and Ireland, developing so rapidly that he must have surprised even those top-class coaches around him.

For Furlong this was the stuff of dreams. Having returned from the Lions tour where he made the tight-head position his own in the three Tests against the All Blacks, one wouldn't have known by his reaction afterwards that he had just been announced as man of the match in this historic third Grand Slam victory.

It was pretty special for the former New Ross club player, who had not long been replaced along with captain Rory Best.

Ireland replenished their front row for that final push, and Tadhg gained an appreciative arm hug from the captain on the final whistle.

And as for that second try in a sweeping movement rehearsed on the training ground - would you believe it that a tight-head prop - yes, Tadhg Furlong - delivered the defining pass in a move that showed Ireland were sweeping towards that Slam victory.

Peter O'Mahony first delivered off the end of the line-out before the wrap around in midfield, with Johnny Sexton making the move to the right.

And it was Furlong's superb blind side pop pass to Bundee Aki that caught the England cover defence, with C.J. Stander eventually making the final yardage for what was a superb try.

It was the move that commanded most of the TV3 half-time break, with Shane Horgan describing the pass in glowing terms.

'If that had been Brian O'Driscoll it would be talked about forever,'Horgan said, while international coach Matt Williams described the pass as 'exquisite'.

That pass was a thing of beauty but it was only part of Furlong's game as he was also a powerhouse in defence.

All of this followed some superb superb play in the tight, where Ireland controlled the scrum.

And as 'The Fields of Athenry' rang out over Twickenham, Furlong slipped into the history books by becoming only the second Wexford player, after D'Arcy in 2009, to help his country to a Grand Slam.

Furlong conjured up a display in such exalted company that it must have filled every single person in the small rural parish of Horeswood, along with his former club, New Ross, with joy and pride, as one of their favourite sons has emerged, not alone on the international stage but on the world stage.

Wexford People