McFadden centre of attention in Dragons' den
Ireland's selectors will take a keen interest in Fergus McFadden's performance for Leinster tonight as he starts at inside centre rather than on the wing.
McFadden will occupy his preferred position for only the third time this season when Leinster play Dragons in the Pro12.
The Ireland international last played there in October when he was selected alongside Brian O'Driscoll for the Celtic League game against Munster in the Aviva Stadium and for their opening Heineken Cup game against Exeter Chiefs.
Since then, he has been utilised primarily on the wing. His form has been excellent on the tramlines, but given Ireland are currently suffering from a dearth of international standard options at centre, it is very encouraging to see him start in his more natural habitat tonight.
McFadden's pace is why he has found himself getting a run of games on the wing with Leinster and is why Joe Schmidt has regularly hailed him as one of his squad's most valuable and versatile players.
McFadden has shown in his games he has a good step with tremendous leg strength in contact and a solid fend-off that was often referenced by Ireland's Les Kiss when he had sole control of the defence at national level.
There is a belief that his distribution, especially off his left hand, has some within the Irish management unconvinced and that is why he has been overtaken in the pecking order by Ulster's Luke Marshall.
In the opening quarter against Scotland last weekend, Marshall flung out a long and accurate pass to Keith Earls on the left wing. It is thought in some quarters that McFadden is not as adept in this respect.
If he can fling those types of passes to Fionn Carr and full-back Luke Fitzgerald tonight, he could do his international prospects the world of good.
This clash is not being televised, which is why Ireland assistant coach Mark Tainton has been despatched to Wales. McFadden has a chance to influence his subsequent report to Declan Kidney.
That report is also likely to feature Ian Madigan's kicking efforts, from the tee and out of hand. The out-half has a return rate in the region of 80pc and will assume the duties again tonight, despite McFadden's presence in the team.
With a number of players available for selection this week, the Leinster management have made several changes to the starting line-up ahead of the trip to Newport. Twenty-two-year-old Academy prop Jack O'Connell will make his seventh Leinster appearance – and his first start – in a front-row which includes Balbriggan man Jamie Hagan and Sean Cronin.
Cronin is one of four Ireland internationals to return to the panel this week. Fitzgerald, Eoin Reddan and Devin Toner also come back into the starting line-up.
Dragons' only loss in their last five fixtures in all competitions was the 3-60 home reversal to Glasgow Warriors in their most recent contest at Rodney Parade, although they have won just three of their last 11 home games in the league.
In contrast, Leinster have won their last seven matches in all competitions since their 19-27 defeat in Ulster in the Pro12 in December and have won six of their last seven encounters against Welsh regions in all competitions. They haven't lost to Dragons since 2009.
Leinster have been taking advantage of Ulster's troubles of late in the league and have consolidated their top-four placing in recent weeks. A win tonight would further enhance the likelihood of them contesting the play-offs at the end of the season.
Dragons are languishing near the bottom of the table and, given the fire-power Leinster travel with, it is impossible to predict anything other than a comfortable win for the visiting side.
DRAGONS – D Evans, A Hughes, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos; S Jones, J Evans; I Jones, N Cudd, L Evans, J Groves, I Nimmo; N Buck, S Parry, P Price. Reps: H Gustafson, A Coundley, D Way, R Sidoli, A Jones, W Evans, T Prydie, W Harries.
LEINSTER – L Fitzgerald, D Kearney, B Macken, F McFadden, F Carr; I Madigan, E Reddan; J O'Connell, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Flanagan, D Toner; D Ryan, S Jennings, R Ruddock. Reps: A Dundon, J McGrath, M Bent, L Cullen, J Murphy, J Cooney, A Goodman, E O'Malley
Ref – D Wilkinson (IRFU)