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Luke Fitzgerald ‘amazed’ that Tadhg Furlong isn’t nominated for World Rugby player of the year

Luke Fitzgerald

Luke Fitzgerald has questioned what more Tadhg Furlong has to do to get nominated by World Rugby for the player of the year award.

Furlong has had a brilliant international year with both Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, having held the fearsome Springboks’ scrum at bay during the summer while he also played a huge role in wins against England and New Zealand.

Despite his impressive performances this year, Furlong has missed out on a nomination for the biggest individual award in the game. In fact, a prop has never been nominated for the award since it was introduced in 2001.

Former Ireland international Fitzgerald was speaking at the launch of this year’s GOAL Mile, partnered by AIB, and argued that Furlong deserves to not only be nominated, but win the World Rugby player of the year award for 2021.

Luke Fitzgerald on Tadhg Furlong.

“Someone who’s not nominated – Tadhg Furlong,” Fitzgerald said when asked who he thinks should win.

“But from the people who are there I think [Antoine] Dupont is pretty clear, isn’t it? That would be my opinion. I don’t know how Maro Itoje made it in there. Honestly, I’ve no idea how he made it in there, that was bizarre.

“But I think the second centre for South Africa, [Lukhanyo] Am, is a serious player. He was brilliant in that Lions tour. Even some of the stuff you’ve seen subsequently, he’s been brilliant.

“[Michael] Hooper, every time I see him I love him. He’s a wrecking ball isn’t he? He’s a great player. Dupont probably looks like he’s at the top of his game. I always think, just to tie up my own opinion on why I think it should be Furlong, he’s so much better than anyone else in the world in that position.

“Dupont is unbelievable, but I think Aaron Smith is pretty close to Dupont in terms of quality. It’s amazed me how Tadhg Furlong has gone without the nomination so far in his career, because I think he’s unbelievable. He’s basically like a back rower around the pitch and he can do all the tough grind stuff as well.

“If you haven’t got a good tighthead prop you’re goosed. You’re completely goosed. So to my mind it’s crazy that one of them hasn’t been nominated so far. Furlong for me, but among the selections it’s got to be Dupont.”

James Lowe’s recent Ireland form.

Furlong certainly isn’t the only player to have impressed for Ireland in the Autumn Nations Series, as numerous players put in their best performances in a green jersey against one of Japan, New Zealand and Argentina.

James Lowe is just one of those, as he he put in much improved defensive performances last month after a number of glaring lapses off the ball in this year’s Six Nations.

Although Fitzgerald believes Lowe has improved in both attack and defence, he isn’t convinced that the Leinster winger is the finished article yet.

“I think he still has a lot of work to do in defence. It was great to see him so confident and jovial after the New Zealand game, and rightly so. I thought he had a brilliant November series,” Fitzgerald explained.

“What he didn’t actually do great, I didn’t think, over the initial period of his Irish career was that I think he actually struggled on the attacking end of the ball a bit as well. I thought some of his kicking wasn’t great, his ball protection was a little bit loose, he was dropping a few things. It just wasn’t working for him in the attacking end of things.

“Whereas I thought with Ireland’s new and improved expansive game plan, I thought he really flourished. That little bit of ball playing he had behind those forward pods. If you think about some of the breaks he made himself, but also the people he put into holes.

“Some of that stuff was brilliant and that was great to see. He was expressing himself well. I thought his kicking was good. It was a nice asset that left foot, it was really good for Ireland. So the attacking parts of the game are what I thought were really good. I thought defensively Ireland as a team were just generally better.

“He still had that error where New Zealand had that Will Jordan try. So when he said, ‘You guys are always on to me about my defence,’ I didn’t think it was an unbelievably polished performance in that sense. My worry is that he thinks the journey is over there. I think he still has a bit to go on that end. But certainly a massive improvement.”

Luke Fitzgerald on Leinster’s lofty standards.

Leinster certainly haven’t had a bad few years as of late, as they picked up their fourth Pro14 title in-a-row last season, but they have suffered a number of disappointments in the Heineken Champions Cup.

It isn’t too long since they last became European champions, having won the Champions Cup in 2018, but they did suffer a somewhat surprising defeat to Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle last season, and were beaten in Dublin by an understrength Saracens side the year before that.

Although a season in which Leinster wins the league certainly can’t be described as a failure, Fitzgerald does believe that Johnny Sexton and co. won’t be content with anything less than a Champions Cup triumph.

“I’m sure that’s the chat in there, I’m sure that’s the main focus and I think that’s right. If you look at how much talent they have on the pitch – I just don’t see a weakness anywhere in that team,” Fitzgerald commented.

“They look like they’ve got 30 to 35 people who could slot in and do a very good job. There’s still a few positions where I think there would be a difference. I think there’s a difference between Johnny Sexton, for example, and the next in.

“I still think there’s probably a difference at tighthead. But other than that, the depth chart there is unbelievable. They’ve got an abundance of talent, they’ve got a great coaching staff, they’ve got a good age profile.

“Obviously Johnny Sexton is fairly advanced in his years but he’s playing brilliantly. Behind him they’ve got three people who I think are very capable in the Byrne brothers and [Ciaran] Frawley, who I think is unbelievable but playing the wrong position.

“I always think it’s nearly theirs to lose. There’s obviously good competition in France now and it looks like some older powers in the UK are coming up. Leicester – it’s great to see them making a good start, they’re such a brilliant club. They could be an emerging force in the next couple of years.”

Luke Fitzgerald

Pictured is AIB staff member and former International Rugby Player, Luke Fitzgerald, at the launch of this year’s GOAL Mile, proudly partnered by AIB. In supporting GOAL and encouraging people across the island of Ireland to step up together and take part in the GOAL Mile this Christmas, AIB is helping reach vulnerable communities already suffering deeply from the impact of crises, poverty and climate change. Complete the GOAL Mile by registering at goalmile.org and taking just 2,000 steps in any place, at any time during the month of December.

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