TOKYO, 16 Oct - Tadhg Furlong knows Ireland will need to be at their dogged best to stand any chance against New Zealand this weekend.
And Irish fans will be relying on Furlong to lead from the front.
The 26-year-old tight-head prop was at the heart of Ireland’s dramatic 16-9 victory over the All Blacks last November, but he is keen to play down the significance of that win.
"It gives us confidence that we have had results in the past but at the same time it doesn't guarantee anything," said Furlong. "It doesn't mean they're going to rock up and play with the same plan as before."
Furlong is one of the players whose performances thus far at Rugby World Cup 2019 allow Irish fans to dream. A Grand Slam winner who has beaten South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as playing an integral role in the 2017 British & Irish Lions team who drew with the All Blacks, he knows what it takes on the biggest stage.
What makes Furlong stand out is that alongside England’s Kyle Sinckler and Japan’s Jiwon Koo, he belongs to a new breed of tight-head. As well as being titanic tacklers and strong scrummagers, these props add a new attacking dimension to their play.
Furlong, Sinckler and Koo are all athletic, can break the line, and make big carries. Furlong is particularly exceptional because he also poses a potent try-scoring threat. To see how destructive he can be, just check out this try against Samoa (6.33 on the video above).
He is surrounded by a mound of defenders when he receives the ball deep in the Samoan 22, but manages to wriggle and power his way through four would-be tacklers to drive over the line.
Furlong, Sinckler and Koo all have impressive numbers for carries and tackles among the tight-head props left in the tournament, but the Irishman tops the standings for defenders beaten (five) and clean breaks (two). He is also the only one of the three to have crossed the line, with two tries to his name so far. Against Scotland, Furlong scored Ireland’s third try of the game, powering through two defenders from close range (1.16 on the video below).
Furlong’s 30 metres gained are more than any tight-head at this tournament bar Koo (31) and Scotland's WP Nel (51), and he showed the versatility in his game against Japan, putting in a clever grubber kick in the first half of that match.
He has also been a key part of Ireland’s formidable defence which has conceded only two tries so far at this World Cup.
Across Ireland’s four pool stage matches he made 22 tackles, missing none. The only other tight-head prop in the pool stages to have made more than 20 tackles without missing any was Tonga's Ma'afu Fia.
If Ireland are to shock the All Blacks on Saturday, Furlong will undoubtedly have a key role to play.