Sunday 30 April 2017

'Joe knows what I bring to squad' - Fergus McFadden defends Six Nations call-up

Fergus McFadden shows his emotion after scoring his side’s fourth try against Wasps. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden shows his emotion after scoring his side’s fourth try against Wasps. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

One of the most important things to understand about Joe Schmidt and his way of thinking is that he is far more likely to put his trust in a player who knows his systems inside out rather than draft someone in from the outside.

For to become a member of Schmidt's circle of trust, you have to earn your way in and even though form does count for something, if you have proven yourself in that past, that is often the deciding factor.

Shane Horgan branded Schmidt's decision to select Tommy Bowe in the Six Nations as a "nostalgia call", and while the Kiwi predictably shrugged off that suggestion, eyebrows were again raised up and down the country when Fergus McFadden replaced the Ulster winger in the Ireland squad ahead of the final game against England.

McFadden has endured an injury-hit season and prior to getting the call from Schmidt, he had played only four games this campaign which included just two full 80 minutes.

Considering the form of Darren Sweetnam and Adam Byrne, there were justifiable claims for their inclusion but McFadden has long been one of Schmidt's go-to players.

The inevitable online fury wasn't long in following the announcement but it was futile. McFadden spent the week in Carton House because it allowed a seamless transition into Schmidt's systems.

That said, there would of course have been plenty of value in calling someone like Sweetnam or Byrne into the squad for the experience alone and McFadden is under no illusions about that but he was not going to turn down the chance to get himself back into the Ireland picture.

"I'd be the first to admit I hadn't that much rugby under my belt," McFadden concedes.

"For the rugby I played this year, did I deserve to get called ahead of others? Maybe not.

"But on the flip-side of that, I think I've built up enough credit under Joe. After being coached under him for six years now, for Ireland and Leinster, he knows what I bring.

"I'm getting sharper each week. Coming off the bench I felt sharper again against Wasps. I was delighted to be called into camp and be back in the set-up.

Terrific

"It was funny, I hadn't been in the set-up through South Africa or November, so it was a bit like first day back at school. But it was terrific to see the lads go so well against England.

"For me, personally. I'm just trying to get a starting spot back in Leinster. It's so competitive now all across the board. It's a great place to be."

A torn quad back in October kept McFadden out for a longer period than he had initially hoped but he is slowly working his way back to full fitness.

Last weekend's impressive shift from the bench in place of the injured Byrne was capped with the try that sealed Leinster's semi-final place and you can see in the picture above just see how much it meant to him.

Byrne's hamstring problem has put McFadden in the frame to start against the Ospreys on Saturday and he knows that time is against him as he looks to force his way back into Leo Cullen's first-choice XV.

"There were dark days," the Curragh, Co Kildare native admits.

"(Saturday) was a great day for the club, but there are individuals who weren't picked that have added so much for the squad to get there. It's tough for them to watch as well.

"They're doing so much behind the scenes. They don't get the credit in the papers or plaudits, but it's the unity in this building - player and staff side - that put us in those positions.

"For me coming back in, there's guys who have done so well while I was injured, they've grasped the chance and played some top rugby.

"It was a big challenge for me to come back and just fit into the group, because I hadn't trained with the team in a long time or played."

At 30, McFadden is one of the most experienced players in what is largely a young Leinster squad and while the new faces around the UCD base have brought a freshness, having put themselves in a great position to win two trophies, they are determined to finish this season with silverware.

"When young guys come in that haven't tasted success... I came into the team in my first year, 2007 and we won the Magners League in '08, that season," McFadden adds.

"There were a few of us that only knew winning, so when a few losses, a couple of years with no trophies, you're looking around going, 'What's this about?'

"Whereas the young guys coming up, they have a hunger for something they've never touched before. That's been great and very refreshing for the squad.

"I think this is more of a mass emergence than the one I was with," McFadden adds.

"It's been really re-energising to see those guys come in. It's been great because sometimes when you're with the same squad for a long period of time, things can become a tiny bit stale.

"As much as we all want to win trophies and every week, the young guys just add huge energy to the squad. I'm just happy to be part of it now."

Irish Independent

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