Rory Sutherland’s Lions Test credentials endorsed by front-row partner Tadhg Furlong

Tadhg Furlong has endorsed Rory Sutherland’s front-row credentials as the British and Irish Lions players face a nervous wait to see who Warren Gatland picks for the first Test.

Rory Sutherland started for the British & Irish Lions in the win over the DHL Stormers on Saturday. Picture: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The team to face South Africa on Saturday is close to being finalised and will be made public on Thursday.

Furlong, the Leinster tighthead, has started for the 2021 Lions against Japan, the Sharks (the second game) and the Stormers and on each occasion has had Sutherland packing down alongside him.

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The Irishman thinks continuity could prove invaluable when it comes to facing the ferocity of the Springboks front row.

Tadhg Furlong on the charge for the British & Irish Lions against the Stormers in Cape Town where he had Rory Sutherland alongside him in the front row. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

“It’s time in the saddle with each other so I’d like to think I have a good understanding with Rory,” said Furlong, who played all three Tests for the Lions in New Zealand in 2017.

“We’ve played with three hookers as well so in the short weeks like that sometimes it can be a little bit hard to get up on the same page but, yeah, I definitely feel comfortable scrummaging with Rory.”

Sutherland has quietly garnered a reputation as one of the best looseheads in Europe, prompting Worcester Warriors to spend big to prise him from Edinburgh this month.

Alan Solomons, Worcester’s director of rugby, described him as “a terrific rugby player; a big, powerful, abrasive, scrummaging loosehead who really puts himself about,” and the Hawick man will need all those qualities and more if he is picked to start against the world champions on Saturday.

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Scrummaging was the bedrock of South Africa’s 2019 World Cup final victory and Furlong expects a ferocious battle in Cape Town.

“It’s a huge challenge for us, isn’t it?” he said. “It’s so ingrained in their DNA, that scrum dominance, the maul dominance, it’s a huge challenge for whatever forward pack and whatever subs are selected.

“It’s one of the great things about playing Test series in South Africa that I think the lads will be hugely up for it.”

With the exception of the defeat against South Africa A, the Lions have rarely been tested and the high-scoring wins over the Sigma Lions, the Sharks (twice) and the Stormers appear scant preparation for the Tests but Furlong argues that any exposure to local packs is good experience for the tourists.

“You’re coming up against a passionate crew who take pride in their work and art at scrum time,” said the Ireland prop. “Yes, we’ve not been playing the Springboks, we’ve been playing the provincial teams or the franchises, but they still take massive pride in their scrum and they’re big men.

“It’s been tough, it’s been a good work out for us, it’s been a good challenge and as I said it’s trying to get on the same page very, very quickly and getting the feel of the scrum really, because it does take time to create a better partnership.”

Nevertheless, the 28-year-old acknowledges that Saturday will represent a huge step up.

“It’s big boy rugby, on a big stage. You can feel it around the place,” Furlong said. “It’s nervy. Everyone’s a little bit on edge. We’re into the nitty-gritty of the tour now and it means a lot to people, so everyone is just waiting to see how it pans out – if you are in or out of the team.”

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