Tadhg Furlong has praised the increase in opportunities for rugby players who have come through the clubs system in Ireland in recent years.
British and Irish Lions prop Tadhg Furlong is one of relatively few professional players in the Leinster set-up to have come through the clubs system, rather than the schools system which is known for having better coaching and resources, which in turn grants its players more exposure.
Furlong was speaking as a Vodafone ambassador for the Lions’s tour of South Africa and acknowledged the differences between the opportunities presented to players within the schools system compared to the clubs system.
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Tahdg Furlong on the differences between school and club rugby.
“I suppose the ratio of people that comes through the clubs system would tell you that it is harder compared to the amount of people that played [with schools],” Furlong commented.
“I suppose there’s no point in hiding from that but I think if you’re good enough in the club game you will get picked up at the same time.
“I know at Leinster, and I don’t want to speak for any of the other provinces, but you know the emphasis that’s put on [rugby] in school.
“A lot of the lads grew up in Dublin and just wanted to play rugby for Leinster and Ireland and that’s what they’ve done all their life.
“Where playing down the country is a little bit different, isn’t it? You play a lot of sports – you play GAA, you go into the local club and you train once or twice a week and play a game on a Saturday.
“Where we all know the level of coaching and infrastructure that’s in the schools game in Dublin.”
‘You’re seeing club players coming through.’
While the Leinster squad is still primarily made up of players who played in the school’s Leinster Senior Cup, the Wexford man does believe that things are starting to change.
Himself and his former Leinster, Ireland and Lions teammate Sean O’Brien are the most high-profile players in recent years to not have played in the schools system, but there are a number of club-reared players now coming through the Leinster academy.
“It’s impossible to measure up really but at the same time I look at the pathway that was there when I came through and I look at it now and it’s so, so different in terms of the level of coaching and the amount of time and resources available,” Furlong explained.
“You’re seeing it in the academy structures and through the provinces you’re seeing club players coming through.
“Even from our academy I know there’s a good few – there’s Brian Deeny from Wexford and Michael Milne from Birr as well. There’s loads and loads.
“I think it’s becoming way more common than when Shane Horgan was there and he was from the country or Sean O’Brien who was from the country. I think it’s changing.”
Tadhg Furlong pays tribute to New Ross RFC’s Godfrey and Peggy Hill.
Furlong still holds his club New Ross RFC close to his heart and recently showed just how much it means to him in a touching video.
The Wexford native dedicated his Lions jersey before the game against Japan to his under-eight coaches at New Ross, Godfrey and Peggy Hill, and explained how much they influenced his life in rugby.
“Godfrey and Peggy would have taken the under-eights in New Ross for years and years,” Furlong said.
“I got an opportunity to present a Lions jersey to someone who’s done a massive amount for me and it’s not only me that they’ve influenced massively. It’s everyone who walked through the gates of the club.
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“When you’re from a small club or a relatively small club like I am the first contact point is so important. In how they get people involved, their kindness, the time it takes.
“God forbid I wouldn’t have the patience to deal with a load of under-eights in New Ross. But the way they did it was hassle-free and I loved it and brought us all along and gave everyone a chance.
“It’s a testament to the character of the man and unfortunately he’s no longer with us. It’s a small gesture from me really for the impact he’s had on so many people in the club.”
Tadhg Furlong is an official Vodafone Ambassador for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa. He was speaking after dedicating his 2021 Lions jersey to Peggy Hill and her late husband Godfrey of New Ross Rugby Club who were instrumental in fostering a love of the game in Tadhg as a youngster.