B&I Lions 'need to be on the same page' for Boks
SPOTLIGHT: The scrums are emerging as one of the key contests in the forthcoming British and Irish Lions Test series against South Africa.
While the head-to-head contest between stalwarts Tadhg Furlong (Lions) and Steven Kitshoff (Springboks) are stealing the headline, dominance in the set pieces will come through a cohesive team effort – not individual power.
This is the view of Furlong, one of the world’s best tighthead props.
However, even for someone as accomplished as the 2017 tourist, bringing together all the different elements from the four nations into a functioning set piece is a formidable challenge.
And while the 28-year-old Leinster bulldozer admitted the Lions pack are not the finished article just yet, Furlong is enjoying the “open” process of getting on the same page together.
“The scrum is probably the one that hits me most to be honest”, because everyone does it that little bit different and I feel like you have to be comfortable in there,” Furlong said in an interview on the B&I Lions’ official website.
“It needs to be quite simultaneous, muscle-memory, you have to feel comfortable knowing where you’re at and it just takes a bit of time, we’ve done a fair few set-ups and things like that.
“We’re not the finished article yet by any means but it’s on the players to be open about what they’re doing, what they’re trying to achieve with their countries or provinces or whatever.
“We need to be on the same page and there’s a little bit of give and take in that. From the set-up point of view, you’re quite comfortable but a lot of the teams do the same things anyway.
“In terms of the scrum, it’s about the conversations between the front three and the back row, I suppose that’s the really important bit and your comfortable bit in the scrum.
“That’s the automatic bit and I don’t think there are many combinations there that have played with each other before, I don’t think there are any in fact, so just trying to get amongst it.”
Brutal forward battles have always been the key in contests between the B&I Lions and the Boks.
On their last visit to the Republic, back in 2009, Tendai Mtawarira overpowered Phil Vickery in the first Test to set the stage for an epic contest and eventual Bok series win.
In the B&I Lions famous victories in 1997 and even 1974, the foundation for those series victories were also laid in the set pieces.
And Furlong is expecting a similarly brutal contest this time around, especially having seen what one of the Springboks’ key men – Steven Kitshoff – can do up close many times over the years.
“I first met Steven in [the] Under-20 [world championship] when we [Ireland] were playing in South Africa and I kind of kept in contact with him ever since,” Furlong said.
“We toured there in 2016 with Ireland and again I would have caught up with him.
“They also came over I think in the November of ’18 and he’s done very, very well for himself.
“He’s such a big player for them, a power athlete, physical, abrasive, strong in the scrum, he’s a really good player. He’s got plenty of experience, he’s started plenty of Tests for South Africa.
“There’s plenty of experience there and he’s 28, 29 now and he’s up for his crack at the jersey. We’ve all seen there wasn’t really a starting front row for that South Africa team in the World Cup.
“They kind of had 45 minutes and full change, that was the way it was. He’s a dynamic player. There’s kind of a little prop family going around in rugby, isn’t there?
“We kind of recognise each other’s weirdness in a small little way, you even find yourself gravitating to the props here at the minute, it’s just one of those weird things.”
* Meanwhile Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) and Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) have joined up with the 26-man Lions squad in Jersey.
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster, Ireland) will remain in Jersey to train, but has not been formally added to the 37-man touring party.
British and Irish Lions training squad in Jersey
Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales)
Bundee Aki (Connacht, Ireland)
Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales)
Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales)
Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland)
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland)
Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland)
Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)
Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester, Wales)
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Anthony Watson (Bath, England)
Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales)
Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland)
Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England)
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)
Taulupe Faletau (Bath, Wales)
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland)
Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland)
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales)
Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales)
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster, Ireland)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England)
Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales)
Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England)
Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales)
Hamish Watson (Edinburgh, Scotland)
* Picture credit: Inpho photography