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You've heard the jokes, but Tadhg Furlong is actually playing like an out-half - Andy Dunne

Andy Dunne and Ruaidhri O'Connor discuss Ireland's front row, labelling it as possibly the best in the world and earmarking Tadhg Furlong for special praise.



Journalist Ruaidhri O'Connor and former player Andy Dunne joined Monday Night Rugby to discuss Tadhg Furlong and Ireland's front row.

Excitement continues to build for Ireland ahead of the Six Nations.

After some great results and even better performances in November, Ireland go into the tournament with renewed optimism. It's not a World Cup, but it's a marker for progress of a team building towards a World Cup. There are young players coming through, players excelling in their primes and older players still playing at a high level.

Furthermore, Andy Farrell brought a 37-man squad to Spain for a training camp and all 37 players are healthy. The full squad means there are some areas of the starting team that will see strong competition. One area that wont' is the front row.

Since Andrew Porter switched sides and Ronan Kelleher became the starter, Ireland's front row advanced to another level. Irish Independent journalist Ruaidhri O'Connor lavished praise on the group and explains the difference they make.

"Ireland do have possibly the best front row in the world at the moment," O'Connor said.

"It's more a ball-playing front row. You're playing to your team's strengths...It's the switch of Andrew Porter from tighthead to loosehead. That is where it clicks because you suddenly have three front rows who are highly skillful...Ireland are suddenly at the point where they can play all different ways."

Porter's switch to the opposite side allowed him and Tadhg Furlong to play together. Their combined athleticism propelled the team forward. Ronan Kelleher is far more athletic than Rob Herring also, while young Dan Herring is running in tries like wingers.

Ireland's front row is a group of powerful players, but there's still one who clearly stands above the rest.

Furlong remains the standout star though. He is a great scrummager, great in defence and great hitting rucks. He's great at everything he does. His highlight plays have led to many jokes about him being a back in a forward's body, but Andy Dunne doesn't see that as a joke.

Dunne believes Furlong is legitimately Ireland's second playmaker and he is playing like an out-half in space too.

"With Furlong, one of the amazing things, apart from the fact he's a very capable scrummaging prop..." Dunne said.

"...is that there was a time when teams were looking at 'Can we play a second playmaker outside 10? What would it be? Another 10? Or is it more of a ball-playing 12? That's the exact role that he's playing. The amount of time he's touching ball and making the right play based on the defenders that are in front of him, against two or three close defenders in that channel who are putting real pressure on him.

"And he's making the right choice whether to hit the first runner or trail runner. As a tighthead, it's phenomenal."

There can't be many prop forwards in history who have earned such praise from a professional out-half, but Dunne is obviously in awe of what Furlong does.

"It is absolutely phenomenal. He's playing a ball-playing, creative midfield role. That's not hyperbole on my part. I don't think I've ever seen it done to that extent by any team."

He'll never look like an out-half, but Furlong will quietly fancy his chances against a Romain Ntamack or Marcus Smith.

The Ireland squad and the team Andy Farrell should pick against Wales

 

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Andrew Porter Andy Farrell Ireland Rugby Ronan Kelleher Six Nations Tadhg Furlong