Saturday 22 July 2017

Versatile McFadden aims to be centre of attention

WHEN Fergus McFadden's media duties concluded yesterday, he skipped away to training with another reminder of his versatility in his hand.

He clasped a yellow kicking tee and set off in pursuit of Jonathan Sexton, who had just slipped by with a bag of balls slung over his shoulder.

In the absence of Sexton and with the inexperienced Ian Madigan starting at No 10, McFadden took charge of the kicking duties for the trip to Italy to take on Treviso last weekend.

He took to his enhanced responsibility with typical aplomb and landed five penalties from five attempts in what was another reminder of his ability to fulfil a vast array of duties for both province and country.

However, injuries meant he started that game on his less-favoured position on the wing, with Eoin O'Malley -- his direct opponent for his preferred No 13 jersey -- getting the nod at outside-centre. O'Malley used the chance to further his claim to the jersey with his third try in two games.

However, McFadden insists his versatility is a blessing rather than a curse.

"Last week was a bit different, Rob (Kearney) wasn't allowed play as one of the Irish players who were restricted. Isa (Nacewa) hurt his rib and there were a couple of other injuries in the back three," said the former Clongowes pupil, ahead of Friday night's visit of Cardiff.

"Joe (Schmidt) wanted to put out his strongest team so that's why he put me on the wing there.

"It's not my favourite (position), but I can cover there. As Joe saw last year, I did a job there when he wanted me to, so it's good to have it the locker."

McFadden partnered Gordon D'Arcy in midfield in the Heineken Cup opener against Montpellier in France and also in the Pro 12 victory over Munster at Lansdowne Road a week earlier.

Injury saw O'Malley take over for the visit of Edinburgh and while Old Belvedere man McFadden was happy to give his side a dig-out last weekend, he warned he expects time in the centre for Leinster's "bigger" games.

"(Being versatile) doesn't bother me as long as, now that we are coming into a few of the bigger games, hopefully I will get time in the centre," he said.

"We will just see how things pan out. At the moment in Leinster we have such a strong squad and the great thing is the lads who do come in do nearly equally as good a job as anyone else."

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Patience has long been a feature of the 25-year-old's career. His apprenticeship behind D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll has seen Leinster opportunities limited and the displays that earned him the Churchill Cup 'Player of the Tournament' award in 2009 alerted the attention of a number of Premiership clubs.

McFadden opted to stay with Leinster and was rewarded with a seat on the plane to the 2011 World Cup, even though the Kildare native failed to secure a regular starting spot with the province.

He had been tipped for a start at outside-centre in the group stages against Russia in New Zealand, but a late reshuffle due to injury saw Keith Earls drafted in, with McFadden switching inside.

However, with O'Driscoll absent for six months, McFadden now has a chance to further establish himself, with the Six Nations championship edging ever closer.

Schmidt has opted to use him more regularly at No 12, while O'Malley is seen as more of a specialist No 13 and, with Luke Fitzgerald finding his form and Isa Nacewa looking to reclaim a starting spot in the team, it remains to be seen who will be disappointed for the trip to Bath, when Leinster expect to have a full roster to pick from.

"You probably get your hands on the ball in a bit more space at 13 and you've to make some good reads in defence.

"At 12, depending on the type of game, you might get your hands on the ball a bit more and be a bit more of a playmaker. Both have their pros and cons.

"But 13 is kind of the fulcrum because you're a small bit vulnerable through set-piece, with the forwards tied up with line-outs and scrums, and you have to make good reads in defence out there.

"As Brian (O'Driscoll) has showed over the last 11 years for Ireland, it is key for defence.

"I can play both but 13 is probably my favourite position, to be honest. I've probably played more at 12 under Joe and I'm happy to play either. I feel like I can do good things at both positions."

Irish Independent

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