You have the perfect opportunity to reward Tadhg Furlong for one hell of a year 2 years ago

You have the perfect opportunity to reward Tadhg Furlong for one hell of a year

"With people throwing that out, you get kind of embarrassed." - Tadhg Furlong, November 2016

As soon as he fronted up against the All Blacks, in Chicago, then followed it up, in Dublin, he was being linked to the British & Irish Lions.

In the depths of the Aviva Stadium, less than an hour after helping Ireland to a win over Australia, English reporter Alex Lowe stepped up and asked what we were all thinking about - what do you think of speculation linking you to the Lions?  Furlong chewed it over before responding:

"You know the Lions is synonymous with such a big brand and so many great players have played there. Do I see myself there at the minute? No. I think I have a long journey to go and, as I said, I've only started four games for Ireland, two Heineken Cup games for Leinster and it is a big, big step to be making those shouts."

Furlong was great last November but has only kicked on from there and 2017 was truly the year that he established himself as the best tight-head prop in world rugby. There are some that may challenge him but no-one that is consistently producing, and bring extra, like Furlong for club and country.

In our player ratings for the eight Ireland games he featured in this year, Furlong averaged 8/10 for the Six Nations and 8/10 for the Guinness Series. His performances in the home wins over France and England in the Six Nations were excellent and he was a class above South Africa and Argentina, wining crucial scrum penalties and making his now usual, bustling carries.

He invariably delivered for Leinster too and become a real weapon at rucks too, adding another element to his game by picking and choosing his involvements for maximum impact [see Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park]. At this stage, Furlong has advanced to such a level of sustained play that we expect big games from him, much as we do with Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. We are almost taking him for granted, this young prop who only became an Ireland regular in November 2016.

In the middle of this year, too, we had the thrilling Lions Series. The Lions were expected to get wiped 3-0 against the All Blacks yet turned over the Crusaders, Maoris and came close to clinching a famous series win before sharing the spoils with New Zealand. At the heart of it all was Furlong.

From early doors in New Zealand, it became apparent that the Wexford native was the tight-head you wanted to be packing down with in training. Ireland captain Rory Best told The Hard Yards:

"Ultimately, you want to be in the same team as Tadhg because Tadhg was the one that was guaranteed to start - as long as he didn't have some absolute shockers, you just knew with his form, the way he was playing and just the type of player he is."

Against Crusaders - a side that went through 2017 otherwise unbeaten - Furlong was a force of nature. "We couldn't afford for them to play in a dinner suit," he famously remarked afterward.

He was just as committed against the Maori - too committed at times, but luckily Mako Vunipola was on hand to see him right...

And then we had the sight of Furlong starting and starring in each of the Test matches against the world champions and standard bearers in world rugby. He was not the only one to have a tough time in the opening exchanges at Eden Park but he still emerged with credit for a dogged showing. In Wellington, he made a statement-making carry that drove Jerome Kaino back and sent an early message.

Following that series-levelling triumph, he saved his best until the decider and peg it around Auckland like an extra loose forward, hitting more than his share of rucks while crunching into a dozen tackles and making eight carries, most of them getting the lions over the gainline.

The Lions Uncovered documentary features a lovely moment at the end of that 15-15 draw. Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree approaches Furlong and declares, "You're a wonderful player. a wonderful f**king player."

We couldn't have put it better ourselves.