Knocking Concussion on the Head

As published on PunditArena

In September it was announced that Nathan White was retiring from professional rugby based on medical advice following a concussion injury. The Connacht and Ireland prop arrived in Dublin from his native New Zealand in 2012 to join up with Joe Schmidt at Leinster before moving onto Connacht the following year.

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Prior to his injury against his former employers last March, White had established himself as a valued squad member in Schmidt’s Irish squads, garnering 13 caps in the space of eight months following his debut in August 2015. Sadly, he will not be adding to that tally.

The attritional nature of the professional game may be a joy for the public to behold but it has come at a cost. Between 2006 and 2012, Leinster duo Bernard Jackman and John Fogarty were the only professional rugby players to retire through concussion. However, in the past three years alone Craig Clarke, Declan Fitzpatrick, Kevin McLaughlin, David McSharry and now White have all suffered a similar fate.

When this is considered in isolation, it may seem that concussion is far more prevalent in the modern game. However, due to better education on the topic and heightened awareness of its signs and symptoms, players are now more likely than ever to take a sensible approach when dealing with brain injuries.

The rise in players retiring or taking long periods out of the game to recover from head injuries is a direct result of a more accepting culture within the game whereby players feel empowered to make the right decision for their health. Given the consequences of such trauma, rugby can no longer embrace those who make a heroic return to the field following a severe blow to the head. However, steps need to be taken to ensure that players are protected on a weekly basis and over the long term.

Headway, the brain injury services and support organisation, has teamed up with Ireland’s leading player GAA, soccer and rugby unions to launch Concussion Aware, a campaign in association with laya healthcare and LifeStyle Sports. The initiative is being backed by the likes of Irish captain Seamus Coleman, Dublin footballer Johnny Cooper, former Leinster rugby player Luke Fitzgerald and Donegal Ladies footballer Kate Keaney, and encourages coaches and athletes of all levels and ages to put their health to the fore and to remember, “If in doubt, sit it out.”

To get a better understanding of the players’ views on concussion, the Irish Rugby Union’s Players’ Association (IRUPA) has worked on a number of initiatives to determine the best means of further educating its members. Over a 16-month period between 2014 and 2016, the incidents of concussion amongst IRUPA members rose by 3.7%. The common perception may be that the increased physical nature of the sport has been the most significant factor, yet it must also be considered that there is a growing acceptance amongst players and coaching staff that concussion is an injury which needs to be taken seriously.

In an IRUPA survey carried out in October 2014, 13% of players who were concussed admitted that they were not confident that their head injury had cleared when they returned to play. In 2016, the same question was asked of IRUPA members with this number reducing to 10%. Although this figure remains high, it nevertheless represents an improvement of players’ concerns over a short period of time and an unwillingness on their part to take risks when it comes to brain injuries.

Last year, IRUPA in partnership with the IRFU, developed an online training course highlighting the signs, symptoms and effects of concussion. This module was made compulsory for all professional players in Ireland. It was designed to offer the players an interactive learning experience whilst providing real case studies of head injuries and testing their knowledge of the issue with a series of questions. This education tool, allied to World Rugby Concussion Management resource, has helped to provide players with the requisite insight to make informed decisions on the field of play.

In order to establish how effective the education drive had been in the period, IRUPA followed up with direct questions on players’ understanding on Head Injury Assessment (HIA), symptoms of concussion and the Graduated Return to Play Protocols (GRTPPs). The below statistics represent the changes in players’ awareness from the IRUPA surveys carried out in 2014 and 2016:

  • 2% players had a good to excellent understanding of HIA – + 14%.
  • 9% players had an excellent to good understanding symptoms of concussion – + 9.9%.
  • 8% players had a good to excellent understanding of GRTPPs – + 8.8%.

These results provide a direct correlation between the heightened awareness and understanding on the back of educational initiatives. Although it is recognised that knowledge of concussion has progressed amongst its membership, IRUPA continues to look for innovative ways to improve its methods of education to ensure players are making decisions with all the necessary information at their disposal.

As Omar Hassanein, CEO of IRUPA states: “Players must take responsibility to protect their health and well-being even in the heat of the moment. There has been a marked shift in the attitude towards concussion throughout professional rugby, but while we have made progress in raising awareness of the prospective dangers associated with concussion and its long-term effects, there is further ground to be made.”

To that end, the introduction of the Head Injury Assessment and its subsequent introduction into World Rugby’s regulations is seen a huge step in the right direction for the welfare of the players. Whilst this is certainly an improved position, it should also not be the final stance.

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Although there have been significant developments in the area from a professional perspective, there remains plenty of work to be done on the ground level. Speaking at the launch on Tuesday on Grafton Street, Kieran Loughran, CEO of Headway commented: “It’s evident that there is still a huge lack of awareness amongst the general public when it comes to concussion. 1 in 2 of those surveyed as part of our research admit they would not recognise the signs of concussion – this needs to be addressed.”

“It comes down to knowing the signs of concussion and looking after your team-mates and yourself,” Seamus Coleman added. “If a player is concussed, they may be in a confused state so will be relying on their teammates and coach to recognise that something isn’t right. If there is a shadow of a doubt, it’s so vital that they come off the field of play and sit it out. It might sound dramatic but you really could end up saving a player’s sports career, we’ve all seen some of our heroes having to retire early due to the impact of concussion.”

For further information visit http://www.concussionaware.ie and check out the campaign on Headway Ireland’s Facebook where you can download your personalised Concussion Aware frame to show your support.  

Players are also encouraged to show their support of Concussion Aware by wearing uniquely designed elite performance bootlaces, created especially for the campaign, and on sale in LifeStyle stores nationwide and online. 100% of the proceeds will go directly to Headway and to raising further awareness of the dangers of concussion.

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Up for the Fight

As published on PunditArena

As Tommy Bowe battled his way back from a knee injury he sustained whilst playing against Argentina in last year’s Rugby World Cup, there were times during his rehabilitation that made him think that he had played his last game of rugby. Having picked up four serious injuries in consecutive seasons, Bowe has endured a luckless second stint with his home province.

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Speaking at the Ulster Public Panel Discussion as part of IRUPA’s Tackle Your Feelings campaign, in partnership with Zurich, the Irish winger admitted that having spent so much time on the sidelines, it’s hard not to question whether he would ever get back on the pitch.

“I’ve chatted with Stephen Ferris and Felix Jones about when you’re told that it’s not going to get any better and that’s always the fear. That’s what keeps you up at night.”

Having undergone kidney surgery just prior to his return to Ulster in 2012, Bowe was then dealt a further blow when he picked up a significant knee injury in December of the same year. While Bowe returned to fitness in time to travel with the Lions to Australia the following summer, a broken hand threatened to rule him out of the series. A groin injury sustained in the narrow defeat to New Zealand then forced him to miss the entirety of the 2014 Six Nations.

“This is my 13th season in professional rugby and I’ve found that mental health has become a huge area of concern in sport. Throughout my career I’ve found it difficult to deal with injury, but it’s equally tough when you are dropped or have a bad game.

“The mental side of sport is so huge nowadays, especially as you’re trying to get the best out of people. A lot of it is about being able to perform under pressure in some big, big games but with that come the highs and the lows. It’s important to work at trying to keep yourself on a level playing field, so that you’d don’t go too high when things are going great and you don’t go too low at the other end.”

Also speaking on the evening were IRUPA CEO Omar Hassanein, Dr. Eddie Murphy, Irish Women’s Sevens International Hannah Tyrrell and former Ulster fullback Bryn Cunningham, who was forced to retire early from the game.

Given the macho perception of the sport, people find it difficult to imagine the players dealing with little more than the bumps and bruises. The panel therefore explored the importance of mental wellbeing and how Ireland needs to be more proactive in resolving emotional challenges before they escalate into a crisis. The discussions were another step towards achieving the vision of a society that embraces emotional vulnerability.

“When I was a teenager, I struggled with my own self-confidence,” Tyrrell admits. “I had low self-esteem and a poor body image. I just viewed myself negatively in every aspect. I developed an eating disorder. For some reason I felt that if I were skinnier or prettier, people might like me, or I might perform better in school or in sport.

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A talented soccer player, Tyrrell turned her attentions to Gaelic Football when the Dublin U14 management came calling. Thereafter she progressed through the ranks to the senior side, winning several All-Ireland titles along the way. But beneath her sporting glory, Tyrrell was facing up to a greater challenge.

“I wasn’t very good at communicating my feelings,” Tyrrell explains. “I took everything on myself and in time I began to restrict my food intake, binging and purging before I began to self-harm.”

Having sought help, rugby provided Tyrrell with an outlet to grow, develop and indeed take stock of her experiences.

“I took up rugby in 2013 just after the women had won the Grand Slam. As I was very sporty and ambitious, it was always something that I thought I’d love to try. I was just coming out of my recovery and so I needed it to keep me on the right track and provide another goal to focus on. Rugby aside, the camaraderie I’ve enjoyed and the friends I’ve met means it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

“I’m very thankful I went to rugby training that evening.”

Joey Carbery: An Understudy?

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Dublin , Ireland – 26 August 2016; Joey Carbery of Leinster during the Pre-Season Friendly game between Leinster and Bath at Donnybrook Stadium in Donnybrook, Dublin. (Photo By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

 

Graham Henry believes that both Leinster and Ireland will have no need to worry once Jonny Sexton hangs up his boots, or so the story goes. Gordon D’Arcy would tend to agree, while Rob Kearney has been similarly impressed by Joey Carbery’s start to the 2016/2017 season.

“We’ve seen his potential over the past number of months on a daily basis and obviously he starred for Clontarf last year,” the Irish fullback said. “It’s important that guys are rewarded for how they are performing and you saw how superb he was [against Treviso]. He showed that he’s right at home at this level.” High praise indeed. But just who is Joey Carbery?

A relatively new face to Irish rugby fans, the young out-half took little time to introduce himself to the most critical analysts of all. Within the first three minutes of his career in professional rugby, Carbery’s sleight of foot and strength in contact saw him go under the posts for Leinster’s first try of the season. Another effort later in the half further exhibited his attacking flair. Picking up a loose ball just shy of his own 22, Carbery slipped a tackle before showing plenty of gas to race clear and step outside the last line of defence.

Yet we need not be fooled by his Kiwi accent. Having moved to the country from his native New Zealand at the age of 11, Carbery is very much a product of the Irish development system having progressed through both the clubs’ and schools’ scene.

“I was born with a rugby ball in my hand,” he admits, speaking to Pundit Arena. “My father, my grandfather and his father before him all played rugby to a decent level back at home. Dad played representative rugby until he moved to Ireland at 21 and met my mother. In time they moved back to Auckland where I was born.” When settling in his mother’s homeland of Athy a number of years later, Carbery quickly became involved with the local rugby club and developed his game under the influential tutelage of his father, a former half back for the Blackrock College club.

“I played up to U19s at Athy. I was always involved in the older teams. We always had a good bunch of guys there so no matter what grade I played with we seemed to get to a Leinster final. We never won but we always seemed to be there or thereabouts. The only problem was that Blackrock were always there too.”

Having tasted representative rugby as a scrum half with Leinster Youths, Carbery sensed that schools’ rugby might offer the clearest path into the professional game. He, therefore, jumped at the opportunity to go to Blackrock College for his final year of schooling.

“There was a lot more training involved and a bit more structure than I had ever been used to at Athy. Personally, it was probably more in line with my own thinking of how I needed to progress my game if I was to have any hope of pushing on. We had a great side too which helped. Nick Timoney, Jeremy Loughman – I think every one of us played provincial rugby at some level.”

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Carbery was deployed at full back and Sean Kearns (currently leading St. Mary’s impressive start to the UBL season), featured at out half as Blackrock prevailed to claim their 68th Senior Cup title following an exciting win over Clongowes Wood in the final. But while his rugby motives were vindicated, Carbery was equally determined to get a good Leaving Certificate. This year he continues his Sports and Exercise Management course at UCD. Although his education remains of importance, Carbery’s growing role in Leinster will undoubtedly have shifted his ranking of priorities.

“I’ve worked hard on my game, but I’m only just starting out. There are many more years of work ahead. The pace of the PRO12 was a definite step up from the UBL. I’m beginning to get a grasp on it but I had to adapt my game slightly at the outset.

“Not for one moment did I think I could make an impact in that manner. The management would appear to have belief in me in that they’ve been given a bit of freedom to bring my own game to the table – to play to the line and whatever is in front of me. From time to time, when I push the boat out a little too far, they’ll pull me back and canvas the safe option but that’s all part of the learning experience. I’m just trying to enjoy every bit of it at the moment.”

With Jonny Sexton making an impressive return to the fray in the Friday’s 31-19 victory over the Ospreys, Carbery had to make do with a late cameo off the Leinster bench. Despite his remarkable start to the season, the youngster is all too aware that his early season form will need to continue should he wish to remain involved. While Ian Madigan’s departure has created a void below Sexton, Carbery, Cathal Marsh and Ross Byrne have all feasibly targeted the understudy role.

“Ross and I have been toe-to-toe for a number of years now. I struck it lucky with the Irish U20s when he got injured for the Junior World Championships in 2015. Ross had started throughout the Six Nations earlier that year and had played extremely well. It’s never nice to see a mate get injured, but when my opportunity arose, I had to take it and I felt that I had a decent tournament. Momentum has continued to build ever since.”

Such impetus was carried into the Ulster Bank League season last year as Carbery led Clontarf’s assault on the title. Following his Man of the Match performance in their victory over Cork Constitution in the final, coach Andy Wood duly remarked that he was resigned to losing their “special player” to the professional ranks. The player though will always fondly remember his time with the club.

“At Blackrock we had everything going for us. We were the dominant side throughout the year. But at Clontarf we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. A few trips to Munster in the depths of winter didn’t exactly suit our style! We really had to work at our all-round game. We had some serious talent in that side though with Conor O’Brien, who’s now in the Leinster Academy and the likes of Mick McGrath who’s also in and out of the Leinster set-up. It’s probably my greatest achievement to date.”

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Going into this campaign as fourth choice below Byrne and Marsh, Carbery’s graceful and at times steely game has seen him stick his neck out ahead of his rivals. “Ross and I were in the Academy together and Cathal Marsh was just a few years ahead. We all know each other quite well at this stage. We’re all competitive but the reality is that they’re really nice guys and we do what we can to help each other out. There’s a lot of give and take, which can only be healthy from both an individual and collective perspective.”

A quiet and mannerly young man, Carbery is not short of confidence in his own game – a telling trait in an aspiring out half. Given his form and potential, it is increasingly likely that Joe Schmidt will invite Carbery to join up with an extended Irish squad ahead of the November internationals. The youngster remains unfazed.

“My immediate goal is to get into the Leinster team every week, even when Johnny is available for selection. As one of the best in the game, I try to learn as much as I can from him, but ultimately I have to hope to oust him from the team.

“He’s very helpful but you learn more by watching him. He wouldn’t be one of these guys that take you under their wing, advising you on various aspects of your game. He trusts that you haven’t just fallen into that position so he expects you to be of the standard that Leinster deserves – and he knows what your objective is!”

“But who knows… maybe New Zealand will come calling before then!”

Ireland: Five Surprise Selections Schmidt Could Make Ahead Of The November Internationals

Ireland’s recent endeavours in South Africa have shown the merits of introducing a dash of freshness into the camp. Several fringe players put their hands up in the intimidating environments of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.

While they ultimately failed to finish out the job, several of the more inexperienced troop will have undoubtedly benefitted from the experience. Many of those will now look forward to playing important roles as Ireland seek to secure their first ever win against the All Blacks

Joe Schmidt has often been criticised for neglecting to pick untried, albeit form, players and that is unlikely to change as he chases that elusive victory over New Zealand. Lists of this nature therefore often tend to be a fruitless exercise. However, now that he is believed to have committed his long-term future to the country, perhaps he will consider those who will be at the heart of the side he is due to depart in 2019.

The likes of Garry Ringrose and Ross Molony have long been touted for international recognition, but there are several others who are more than capable of making the step up and contributing to both the short and long-term future of Ireland.

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Joey Carberry

Following his brief consultancy period with Leinster, Graham Henry apparently stated that Irish rugby need not fear for the day that Jonny Sexton hangs up his boots. The reason? Joey Carberry.

Entering into the season as Leinster’s fourth choice out-half behind Cathal Marsh and Ross Byrne, Carberry grasped his opportunities with aplomb and has been a revelation when tasked with steering the Leinster ship.

While Sexton’s return may hamper Carberry’s immediate first team hopes, the Auckland-born youngster has shown enough quality to suggest that he is at home at this level and is destined to thrive. There are aspects to his game that will undoubtedly need tending to, but his raw footballing ability and attacking nous ensures that an exciting future lies ahead of him.

Leinster v Bath - Pre-Season Friendly

Dublin , Ireland – 26 August 2016; Joey Carbery of Leinster during the Pre-Season Friendly game between Leinster and Bath at Donnybrook Stadium in Donnybrook, Dublin. (Photo By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

With a two-try salvo against Treviso in the opening game of the Pro 12, Carberry announced himself on the domestic scene in some style. Needless to say, Joe Schmidt will certainly have noticed his compatriot’s impact.

As has been Schmidt’s want, Carberry can expect to be invited along to train with an extended Irish panel ahead of the November series. Should his form continue apace, he has every right to be included on merit. Carberry turns 21 on the eve of Ireland’s game against the All Blacks, but while he may yet be too young to be thrust onto the highest of test stages, he stands a reasonable chance of being Paddy Jackson’s standby when Ireland take on the Canadians.

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Jack O’Donoghue

Rassie Erasmus was left angered when Jack O’Donoghue was stretchered from the field during Munster’s 28-14 win over Edinburgh on Saturday. Thankfully, the 22-year-old returned to the sidelines before the end of the game, but such has been his influence that O’Donoghue has become an integral part of the South African’s plan for the province.

Despite having received a call-up to the Six Nations squad ahead of Ireland’s fixtures against Italy and Scotland, Schmidt resisted any temptation to summon O’Donoghue to South Africa in the summer opting instead for Ulster’s Sean Reidy and Rhys Ruddock of Leinster.

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Yet competition on the international front is as fierce as ever. The likes of Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander remain top of the pile, Tommy O’Donnell remains in the mix while Josh van der Flier’s return to form at the weekend will not help O’Donoghue’s claims.

However, with Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony still on the comeback trail, O’Donoghue’s impressive early-season form means that Schmidt can’t overlook the Munster man. With all the tools to be a top class No. 8, Jamie Heaslip’s eternal tenure at the base of the Irish scrum may ultimately give way to the Waterford man.

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Darren Sweetnam

While Rob Lyttle has been grabbing all the headlines with several notable performances for Ulster already this season, Darren Sweetnam has become a central figure in Erasmus’ Munster revolution.

The former Cork hurler joined the academy in October 2012 but struggled to make much of an impact whilst several of his colleagues pushed on. Erasmus now refers to the outside back as one of his ‘go-to men’ and simply puts his gradual progression down to his distracted rugby beginnings.

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Although the back three department is a congested space, Sweetnam’s attributes are sure to have found their way onto Joe Schmidt’s radar. Defensively sound, tricky in attack and dominant in the air, the Bandon man is technically superior to a number of those at Schmidt’s disposal. If he continues in this vein, Sweetnam will get his opportunity in green sooner rather than later.

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Dan Leavy

Highly regarded at Leinster, Leavy was pinpointed as a potential back row star of the future before Josh van der Flier jumped the queue and became an international player during the 2016 Six Nations.

Finally, having endured a sometimes-difficult beginning to his professional career, Leavy has seemingly overcome his injury problems to feature regularly in the Leinster side this season.

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Featuring in all of the opening games of this campaign, Leavy has proven himself to be a valuable asset in Leo Cullen’s squad. Ironically, given that it is one of Leavy’s principle attributes, his versatility may have counted against him last weekend.

Having been shifted about between 6, 7 and 8 (performing well in each) Leo Cullen preferred to call upon more regular custodians of those shirts in Heaslip, Van der Flier and Jordi Murphy on for the Ospreys’ visit to the RDS, while it was Rhys Ruddock who first emerged from the bench to replace the latter.

However, with several prominent displays already, including a superb evening in Edinburgh where he claimed two tries, Leavy’s resourcefulness stands his international prospects in good stead.

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Alan O’Connor

International recognition would be a fitting chapter in Alan O’Connor’s story.

Rejected by Leinster, O’Connor’s career seemed to be written off before it had even begun. Having failed to make the Ireland U-20s side for the Six Nations in 2012, O’Connor was subsequently included in the travelling party to the Junior World Championship in South Africa. However, before the squad flew out O’Connor was informed that he would have no place in the Leinster Academy upon his return. Allen Clarke of Ulster duly capitalised.

Despite Franco van der Merwe, Pete Browne, Dan Tuohy and O’Connor all competing for a spot in Ulster’s second-row, the 24-year-old has managed to become the frontrunner for the position on a weekly basis.

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Following Paul O’Connell’s retirement last year, Schmidt has looked to several options to fill a considerable void. One of those, O’Connor’s Ulster colleague Iain Henderson (the man many see as being the most capable of filling those considerable boots), has been regularly shifted to accommodate the in-form Dubliner.

Furthermore, in what was something of a surprise, Connacht’s Quinn Roux earned a call-up in the summer and acquitted himself well. On that basis, O’Connor can’t be too far away.

Furlong Chasing Consistency

As published on Pundit Arena

“To be on the line in the third Test pushing for a series victory, only to let it slip away is something that has plagued me all summer. We also had history in our sights with just 20 minutes to go the week before. I have been looking forward to getting it all out of my system for a while now.”

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For Tadhg Furlong, the summer tour to South Africa was a bittersweet experience. Having come off the bench in the momentous victory in Cape Town, Furlong made his full Test debut a week later opposite Tendai Mtawirra.

For much of the encounter, the Beast struggled to contain the Wexford native in what was a clear demonstration of his Test credentials. At just 23, it seems clear that Furlong can look forward to a long future in the Irish front-row.

After what has seemed to be an all too brief off-season, Furlong and his Leinster colleagues kick-off their campaign on Saturday in the unfamiliar surrounds of Navan RFC (3pm).

“It was a relatively quick turnaround but while South Africa was testing it was also a really enjoyable tour in what is a rugby-mad country. We went on historical trips, on safari, got into the water with sharks and embraced the culture. Then there was the boon of representing my country at the weekend – not a bad complaint!

“From a personal perspective I felt that I had a decent tour. But international rugby is a massive step up. If you are struggling in a Pro 12 fixture, you can generally find a way back out. But if you get caught with a bad engagement or shoulder placement on the Test stage, the power that some of these guys can generate will blow you out of the water.

“I need to find consistency in those technical areas. When I sit down in the next few days to assess my goals for the season, that will be on my list and I’ll shape my training around it. For the moment though we’re barely back in the door after the summer. It’s all about maximising potential gains and putting ourselves in the best physical condition to take on the season.”

While Furlong has made great strides in recent seasons, the evergreen Mike Ross continues to play an important role for both club and country. But as he approaches his 37th birthday, he will know that he can’t fend off Furlong’s challenge forever. For now both men will be happy to continue to share the workload.

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“It’s going to be a demanding season. Our performance in the Champions Cup last year is obviously something we will be looking to improve on this year. It’ll be important to get results early on so that we can build and progress from the group. That has to be the first goal.”

Castres Olympique, Montpellier and Northampton stand in the way of that objective.

In what will be a particularly busy period for Furlong, the New Ross man will be hoping to be involved in a challenging November series with Ireland. While the prospect of fronting up to the three northern hemisphere heavyweights within six months might have once frightened an Irish side, Furlong is excited about the prospect of the Australians and Canadians visiting Dublin, while he is also likely to face down the haka for the first time.

“Given how close the lads came in 2013 we’ll be keen to finally get one over on them [New Zealand]. Of course there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and then but Chicago is looming larger on the horizon. Soldier Field will be a crazy atmosphere as I’ve no doubt that the Irish ex-pat community will make up most of the 80,000 capacity.”

Having coming so close to taking a giant scalp in South Africa, Ireland ultimately left the country with just one win from three. Would an evasive victory against New Zealand redeem their 2016?

“Obviously we will be looking at winning all of those games. If you consider that our squad was missing a lot of senior players in South Africa, we gave a good account of ourselves. Lads had to fill those big shoes and I think that experience will stand us in good stead. We never go into a set of games shooting for a 40% success rate. Irish rugby has to move beyond that.”

After a relaxing few weeks off that included the “greatest tour ever” to Barbados alongside a number of his international colleagues, Furlong now returns to a Leinster fold with a few notable absentees – both Eoin Reddan and Luke Fitzgerald have hung up their boots, Ben Te’o is now at Worcester Warriors while Isaac Boss has returned to his Kiwi roots.

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“Given some of the premature retirements we’ve had recently I think it’s important to start developing skills that will help you adapt to life post-rugby. You never know what’s around the corner – this time last year Kevin McLaughlin was leading Leinster into a new season. I’m looking at my options at the moment.

“I finished my Business degree in DCU three years ago, so I’ve had a decent break from studying. But I’ve an ambition to take my education further now again so that I’m set up whenever that day comes – hopefully not for a long time. The books can actually provide a good distraction from all the rugby.”

By all accounts, Furlong is a keen student and this was evidenced when he sought to master new skills whilst on holiday.

“I struggled to get to grips with wakeboarding! I tried it a load of times and just couldn’t manage to stay up. But I couldn’t leave the place until I did. When it finally happened, it might have been so quick that the lads may have missed it but it was certainly satisfying! It’s actually getting bigger in Wexford, so maybe one day I’ll get back to it!”

With such determination and a thirst for knowledge, Furlong looks set to take his young career to new heights this season.

For more information on Tadhg Furlong, check out his new website: tadhgfurlong.com