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11th May 2019

Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy continue to evolve as props

Jack O'Toole

Sport evolves.

In the 1980s, the average offensive lineman was the same size as today’s defensive ends, 6-foot-4, 272 pounds. This decade, the average offensive lineman is 6-foot-5, 312 pounds.

The position evolved. The players got bigger. Harder to shift and move in a league that increasingly caters for passing and offence where there is a great emphasis placed on the quarter-back.

In rugby, players too have evolved. The average weight of an England player in 1994 was 92.3kg (that’s 14st 5lbs). The average weight of an England player in 2014 was 105.1kg (that’s 16st 6lbs).

The game changed and props did too. The likes of Carl Hayman, Gethin Jenkins, Tendai Mtawarira and others began to pave the way but what we’re seeing now from Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong is exceptional.

The two front-rowers still fulfilled their primary job as scrummagers and effectively laid the platform for Tadhg Furlong’s opening try of the game but they offer so much more than that.

In Sunday’s Champions Cup final they exemplified how the game is really evolving with Furlong making cover tackles like an inside linebacker while both players are comfortable at playing the ball at the line.

Healy has trimmed down over the years to become lighter and more nimble on his feet while Furlong has worked consistently on his passing with a number of tip on passes at the line.

It’s a huge point of emphasis for Leinster. They want to move the ball and stretch teams and every player has to be capable of stepping in and changing the point of contact.

“It’s something that Leo and Stuart have driven a lot in the last couple of years, everyone has to be comfortable on the ball,” James Ryan said last week.

“Everyone has to be a ball player and when you get 15 guys that like carrying and like getting on the ball, it makes your attack much more dangerous.”

The ability to move and control the ball has been huge for Leinster and they were able to effectively navigate their way around St. James’ Park in the first-half and build a comfortable 10-0 lead heading towards the break and then it changed.

Luke McGrath put up a box kick, Leinster turned the ball over, and a minute later and Sean Maitland had crossed for a Saracens try to score and send the new champions in level at half-time.

Leinster came out and had some chances in the second-half but as captain Johnny Sexton said it was fine margins. Garry Ringrose failed to give the ball out wide on a four-on-one overlap. James Tracy comes on and has a crooked throw in the line-out. Furlong got stripped. Leinster kicked the ball just once in general play in the second-half.

Saracens take a lead and from there it’s lights out. Just as they did in Coventry against Munster, once they got the lead they were able to bludgeon their way to victory, suffocating Leinster and never allowing them back into a game they had initially dominated.

Saracens were ruthless and were able to bully a Leinster team in a way they simply have not been trampled on in this competition fro quite some time.

The newly crowned champions were relentless and found creaks in the Leinster defence with the likes of Jackson Wray, Billy Vunipola and Vincent Koch all exploiting small holes for large gains.

Leinster smashed Saracens in Dublin last year and today Mark McCall’s side exacted their revenge on the grandest stage in European club rugby but what’s clear is that this could become one of rugby’s great rivalries.

Two teams rammed with Lions, the majority of which are on the right side of 30. Saracens won on Saturday but this could become one of rugby’s great rivalries if both teams can keep on rolling in the direction they have been over the last few years.

Onwards and up.

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