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The two-pronged prop attack that sunk Boks

INTERVIEW: Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter may play in the unglamorous position of prop but they epitomise the resilience and character that Ireland head coach Andy Farrell spoke of after the 13-8 win over defending champions South Africa last Saturday.

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The likes of Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki and Caelan Doris grabbed the headlines in Ireland’s impressive World Cup campaign but it is the tireless efforts of Furlong and Porter which make it possible.

Headlines are quickly forgotten but Porter received an accolade he will treasure for a long time when he came off towards the end of the epic tussle with the Springboks – forwards coach Paul O’Connell rose to his feet and applauded him.

The former Ireland captain is not one for showering players with compliments, which made the gesture stand out even more.

Furlong and Porter, though, are the types who accept compliments and criticism with the same nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, just as they get on with it after taking a heavy hit in a game.

Porter’s character was formed early in his life, when his mother Wendy died of breast cancer when he was just 12 years old.

“There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think of her,” said Porter, who has her name tattooed on an arm.

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The 27-year-old Leinster star understandably suffered a reaction from such a traumatic event – an eating disorder.

“I went from being the biggest kid among my friends to the skinniest,” he revealed at the 2019 World Cup.

“I saw photos of myself a few years ago from around that time.

“I had to rip them up and throw them away.

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“But all that distress and anguish I went through, is what made me who I am.”

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‘Hits keep coming’

It has made him one of the most respected props in rugby and he has channelled his grief into becoming an ambassador in Ireland for the Cancer Society.

The cause is never far his mind and he went with Mack Hansen and Aki to a cancer hospital for children in the French city of Tours where the Irish are based.

“It was incredibly humbling seeing how brave those kids are, how hard they fight every day for where they are,” he said.

Furlong too had his issues with weight when he was growing up on the family farm in County Wexford, though in the opposite sense.

“I’d be out and about, living on a fairly hearty diet back then – black pudding and sausages – a farmer’s diet,” the 30-year-old told ‘The Open Side’ podcast on World Rugby’s YouTube channel last December.

“Then Crash Bandicoot came out on the Playstation – and I went from out and about to being locked in with my brother playing that – I just went…”

His parents, patently unimpressed, told him he was as “big as a bull” and hid his console – an inspired move as he has blossomed into one of the world’s best props.

His poker-faced one-line quips are his trademark as when named captain for the Fiji Test last November he said he had never dreamed he would be named skipper of the national side.

“Spuds, gravy, the mother’s Sunday roast,” he joked when asked what he had dreamed of.

Despite his size he has one of the neatest side-steps in world rugby although his nickname “Jukebox” has nothing to do with dance moves.

His former Ireland Under-20 coach Mike Ruddock nicknamed him “The Mayor of Wexford” for his hard-hitting tackles, but it was not to Furlong’s liking.

“[He said] ‘Mike, will you please stop calling me the Mayor of Wexford,'” Ruddock told extra.ie.

“Just call me the Jukebox. I said: ‘Why the Jukebox?’, and he said; ‘Because the hits keep coming.'”

Talking of music both Porter and Furlong share a love of it, although the former’s devotion to heavy metal, even death metal, finds few followers in the Irish camp.

Indeed it is Furlong who is given the responsibility for playing the tunes in the dressing room.

“I put it on the gym and within a minute it got turned off, probably less than a minute,” said Porter.

“I get reined in fairly quickly around here. Different strokes for different folks.”

 

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