Saturday 21 October 2017

Season a failure if we don't clinch Pro12 – Fergus McFadden

Fit-again Leinster winger targets strong run-in to book place on Argentina tour, writes David Kelly

Leinster's Fergus McFadden during a press conference ahead of Saturday's RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final against Ulster, Leinster Rugby HQ, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Fergus McFadden during a press conference ahead of Saturday's RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final against Ulster, Leinster Rugby HQ, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Even as Leinster secured the Dublin-based route that could hand them the first back-to-back titles in the history of Celtic League rugby, occasional mutterings still punctured the warmth of acclaim last Saturday.

Overheard in one local hostelry was the quite determined affirmation that, not only should a cast of players be shown the door, but that the current coach should be ushered the same way.

Five trophies in five years and few can be ever totally satiated, one supposes. It must be a lonely existence to be sitting on top of the Pro12 table and condemning a quarter-final exit – away – to the champions of Europe.

For sure, a side that has been stripped of many of its leading talents last summer – with more to follow this year – has shed much of the fizz that coursed through the Joe Schmidt-coached side.

More than Brian O'Driscoll, as he did last week, have commented on the change of style necessitated in Matt O'Connor's first-year in charge; defence has been the bedrock and, often, attack has been a casualty.

Nonetheless, that they have transitioned while still remaining competitive is sufficient for most of the supporters and players.

Fergus McFadden stresses this, albeit adding the crucial proviso that only winning this title and retaining Leinster's gluttony for honours will suffice. At least he will await the season's end before defining it.

"It's been a seamless enough transition," the fit-again Six Nations winner replies when the grumblings of the outraged are presented to him.

"Not getting as far as we wanted in the Heineken Cup is a disappointment. But we're top of the domestic league and that's the bread and butter.

"We've been top of the league in four out of seven seasons, but it's about what you do in the play-offs.

"It's all well and good our supporters coming out to back us on the good days, but we're judged on what we have in the trophy cabinet at the end of the season.

"It'll be a successful season if we win the Pro12. It'll be a disappointing one if we don't."

For McFadden, restored to health after the medial ligament knee damage sustained in that Toulon defeat which appeared to have ended his season, thoughts now turn to not only Pro12 success but also reinstating himself in Irish eyes.

Twice now he has had to battle back from injury, initially after smashing his hand against the Aussies last November.

"I felt I had good momentum before I fractured my hand," said McFadden, who came off the bench for all of Ireland's championship games including, memorably, replacing O'Driscoll in the latter's final Dublin international against Italy.

"Every time you play for Leinster you're looking to do well to put your hand up and get on Joe's radar, but these inter-pros bring a bit more rivalry when it's so close to an Ireland selection.

"There might be small percentages between different guys depending on who Joe is looking at. So there are some good match-ups there, it'll be a feisty one.

RADAR

"I've never been over to Argentina, so it would be definitely on my radar anyway. But first and foremost that 80 minutes at the weekend was important to me and I'm hoping to get some more this week.

"Hopefully, if I do play well enough, I'll be getting an email to go over there. According to the lads it is a great place to tour, it is a nice part of the world and it is not too long of a tour.

"There are two tough Tests at the end of a long season. But first we have the semi-finals and there are going to be a lot of players from the three provinces trying hard to nab places."

A queue of wingers have emerged since February to block his route back into the Ireland squad – particularly as, almost uniquely within Irish rugby, he commits himself to being a wing man and not one of the umpteen suitors seeking that elusive 13 jersey.

"I see myself as a winger primarily," he jaw-droppingly insists before absolving himself with a predictably polite caveat.

"But I know there may be opportunities, if Brian is injured, that I may slot in there – Matt has discussed that with me. Thankfully, Brian has had a clean bill of health the last while, but I'll know the role for that position.

"But, first and foremost, it is the wing for me."

Irish Independent

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