Furlong takes on Baille in the battle of the passing props

It has become something of a running joke in Ireland that Tadhg Furlong is a fly-half trapped in a prop’s body but this Saturday in Paris he might just meet his match.

It has become something of a running joke in Ireland that Tadhg Furlong is a fly-half trapped in a prop’s body but this Saturday in Paris he might just meet his match.

The tighthead prop has established himself as one of the game’s very best, starting every Test for the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand in 2017 and then against the Springboks last summer.

Formidable in the scrum and a go-to carrier for Ireland, Furlong has added another string to his bow in recent times.

While most props who pop up at first receiver have just one thing on their mind – running hard and straight, Furlong has become a deft distributor.

That was in evidence once again in Saturday’s 29-7 win over Wales that gave Ireland a dream start to the Guinness Six Nations 2022.


On one attack, Furlong’s last-second pass put Johnny Sexton through a gap inside Josh Adams, while two passes from first receiver helped put Andrew Conway in for his second try that put the result beyond doubt.

This use of Furlong’s passing has been one of the weapons that Ireland have leaned on in their current nine-match winning streak.

Where Furlong made a total of seven passes in the 2021 Championship, during the Autumn Nations Series, he was used as a distributor much more often with 14 passes in just three games.

Only two other props come close to those passing numbers. Furlong’s Lions rival Kyle Sinckler, renowned for his soft hands and ability to shift the point of attack, is one.


The other is France loosehead prop Cyril Baille, who will go head-to-head with Furlong at scrum-time at the Stade de France.

The Toulouse prop has not yet gained the same sort of all-conquering reputation as Furlong in the English-speaking world but head coach Fabien Galthié was already talking him up as one of the best loosehead props on the planet during last year’s Championship.

Ironically, that comment came after France’s win over Ireland in Dublin, the last time Farrell’s team were beaten. That was a match in which Furlong came off the bench as he worked his way back up to full fitness, with Andrew Porter starting at tighthead before his move back to loosehead.

Baille averaged 3.6 passes a game in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, upping that total to 4 in the Autumn Nations Series, a total he matched despite the damp conditions in France’s victory over Italy last week.

One passage between Baille and front-row colleague Julien Marchand saw the prop collect his hooker’s offload, stay upright long enough to pass out of the tackle back to Marchand, before somehow appearing at first receiver to take the ball on the next phase and carry another five metres.

Like Furlong, the fact defences know that Baille is a threat both to pass or to carry, immediately puts them on their heels.

This is not a new concept. For years New Zealand have been able to stay ahead of the pack because of the basic skills from 1-15 where forwards can handle as well as backs.

But that is no longer restricted to those wearing black. The 32 passes made by Ireland starting pack on Saturday were the most of any team and an indication that the skill levels among Irish forwards are up there with the very best.

As well as Furlong, Tadhg Beirne was often used as a pivot, including in the build-up to the first try for Bundee Aki. That has allowed Johnny Sexton to sit a little deeper and attack any weaknesses in the opposition defence further out wide. Ireland will be hoping that Joey Carbery is afforded the same time when he makes his first Guinness Six Nations start.

France defence coach Shaun Edwards will certainly have a plan for this. Against Italy we saw Antoine Dupont used in something of a free role in defence, shooting up out wide when he spotted the chance to put on pressure, and his speed in the defensive line may be key once again in denying Carbery time on the ball.

Of course, the first task for both Furlong and Baille will be in the set-piece. Against Wales, Ireland were nigh on perfect at scrum-time, winning all 11 on their own ball, while also winning one penalty on the Welsh put-in. The only penalty conceded came after Furlong had left the pitch with the win already sewn up.

France were similarly dominant against Italy, Baille getting the upper hand on Tiziano Pasquali, with the one penalty going against Uini Atonio in the first half when his feet were too far back causing him to slip.

It may well be that Atonio’s battle with Porter on the other side is the more important contest in the scrum, with France hoping the power on the right side of their front five from Atonio and Paul Willemse can get the nudge on Ireland.

However, even for those who do not watch rugby for the scrums, the prop battle between Baille and Furlong has the potential to be as crucial as any other head-to-head on the pitch.