Irish tight-head prop Tadhg Furlong – one of the few players in the Lions squad currently regarded as a certain starter for Saturday’s first Test against South Africa – believes that he has formed a strong on-field partnership with Scottish loose-head Rory Sutherland, which could be key to the tourists getting an upper-hand in the crucial scrum battle.  

Furlong has started three warm-up matches on the tour and on each of the occasions he has packed down alongside Sutherland. The one time he came off the bench once, in the first match against the Sharks, it was at exactly the same time as Sutherland joined the fray. The Irishman has played 188 minutes in total on this tour so far, and for 183 of those minutes his propping partner has been Sutherland. The Scotsman is in a ferocious three-way battle with Wyn Jones and Mako Vunipola for the No1 jersey, and this could be key to him getting the nod this weekend. 

“For a front row, it’s about time in the saddle with each other so I’d like to think I have a good understanding with Rory,” said Furlong. “We’ve played with three hookers as well so it can be a little bit hard to get up on the same page, but I definitely feel comfortable scrummaging with Rory. 

“It’s about trying to get on the same page very, very quickly and getting the feel of the scrum really – that would be the big thing for me because it does take time to create a better partnership. 

“It’s a huge challenge for us, isn’t it?” he added. “It’s so ingrained in South Africa’s 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.” 

Warren Gatland will name his team for the Test match on Thursday. Assistant coach Steve Tandy said yesterday that Finn Russell – who has an Achilles tear – is the only member of the squad not currently available for selection.