McFadden confident of passing French acid test
Published 10/02/2011 | 05:00
A penny for debutant Fergus McFadden's thoughts. There he is, 56 minutes in, waiting in the wings for his moment to take centre stage in the Stadio Flaminio.
He has started the move, a quick line-out and back-three advance allowing Keith Earls to chip and chase, then Paul O'Connell's turnover forcing allowing Ireland to progress menacingly.
They can't possibly mess another chance up, can they? Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland's greatest ever player, only has to find his Leinster mucker with the pass. Here it comes ... ! There it goes ... !
Even a startled starling bobs and weaves to avoid a violent collision with a flying Gilbert ball. "Yeah, we were laughing about it," says McFadden, denied a certain try on his debut.
"Thankfully we could laugh about it afterwards. Obviously, it was so unlike Drico to throw it a bit high. But I think we got out of jail even after all those little mistakes. This week, we're not going to be able to make those again. We know that."
O'Driscoll's errant pass was the only thing that flew over McFadden's head last weekend; he absorbed every minute and the great man even apologised for serving up such a poor delivery.
"He said to me afterwards, 'Jeez, I'm sorry for butchering the pass that could have given you a try on your debut.'
"That's the only reason it's being made a big deal about, because it's Drico and he doesn't tend to throw passes like that very often. Hopefully this week, if there is an opportunity like that, I can be in the right position and it will go for me.
"But it was an unbelievable experience. I would have liked to have got my hands on the ball a little more to be honest. Fingers crossed, this week will be different.
"I was happy with a solid performance. International rugby is at a completely different level. I felt like I was solid and did everything I needed to. But I know I could have had a try on my debut, which would have been a dream come true. But the priority was getting a win for the team."
Declan Kidney and the Irish brains trust clearly have enough faith in his potential not to disturb the fledgling back-three partnership that ran the ball back reasonably competently against the Italians. Thus, Andrew Trimble's return from injury is not sufficient to restore him to the starting XV and, while some may prefer the Ulster man's voracious appetite for work further in-field, McFadden's fluency after a number of French lessons this season will stand to him.
Indeed, he can thank Leinster coach Joe Schmidt for much of his startling progress this season. The Kiwi plumped for McFadden to fill the breach against Clermont's burly Fijian Napolioni Nalaga; he did so comfortably.
"I had four matches in the Heineken Cup against Clermont and Racing and I felt I did well in all four games," he confirms. "I played in the back three for all those games also, against some serious back-three players.
"I thought I fared pretty well. They've some seriously exciting players and you have to go into those games really on your toes. But I think it brings the best out of me. Hopefully that will apply on Sunday."
There is no question that France -- 25 missed tackles and all that -- will allow Ireland to play much more than Italy did, but McFadden will have to keep one eye on a certain Maxime Medard, never mind Ireland's proverbial bete noire, Vincent Clerc, named ominously on the bench.
"Medard scored a try last weekend," notes the Kildare man. "He's very quick and he can also play full-back as well. Overall they've got a wealth of experience and talent in the back three.
"There's a few people not making it, Vincent Clerc and the like, not getting into the team so they're not struggling for talent in that area of the pitch. It's really exciting for me to be marking Maxime. I know he's a good player, I've watched him a lot with Toulouse.
"We've done a lot of vision over the last few days and I thought Scotland did well to hang in there. They turned over the ball I think three or four times and France just punished them.
"So we're going to be aware this week that we can't afford to turn over the ball like we did against Italy or we're going to be punished badly. They've got these open-field runners who can score tries from nothing against the best teams."