Leo Cullen backs Fergus McFadden to take centre stage against 'class' Wasps outfit
Leinster coach Leo Cullen has backed Fergus McFadden to perform in the centre in Sunday’s Champions Cup pool opener against Wasps after first-choice Ben Te’o failed to recover from a gluteal strain in time for the RDS clash.
The three-time European champions must cope without Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Te’o in the backline, while Rhys Ruddock is also nursing a bang according to the coach.
That means a backline re-shuffle that sees McFadden partner Noel Reid in the centre, while new captain Isa Nacewa is joined by Zane Kirchner and Dave Kearney in the back three. Johnny Sexton makes his return to the No10 jersey alongside Eoin Reddan, with Luke McGrath covering scrum-half off the bench.
Cullen has selected a strong forward pack full of World Cup performers, with Jack McGrath getting the nod ahead of Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss ahead of Sean Cronin.
Leinster will lose a natural outlet in Te’o in terms of getting over the gainline in attack, but the coach is confident that his replacement can step in and step up.
“Fergus has trained a good bit there, he’s played at Test level there and it’s been a good week’s preparation,” he said.
“It’s been really competitive since people came back from the World Cup, lads pushed hard during those first five games. So we’ve had tough decisions for the start of the European campaign.
“Lukey got a bang against Treviso, he’s close but we didn’t want to push him and was deemed wise to leave him out. Ben Te’o has glute injury, it’s too soon for Rob Kearney. We had thought they’d make it, but it’s too close to risk them.
International Rugby Newsletter
“That’s what we need to be competitive later in the year, you can’t be reliant on certain players. When we played Wasps in the first game last year, we were missing eight to 10 guys but it’s part and parcel of the game.
“It’s important to have that depth, we were conscious of that during the World Cup period. Those guys have added to the environment.”
Nacewa is chomping at the bit to make his first European appearance since the 2013 Challenge Cup final having come out of retirement to return to the fold.
“This is a very special moment,” the skipper said. “I’ve thought about it for a long time in the weeks I’ve been here. It’s exciting.
“It’s pretty amazing how quickly the European week comes around. The intensity and competition goes up, it’s an excitement as well. We’ve had a good week.
“Wasps are a class side, potentially one of the best back threes in Europe with Charles Piutau, Frank Halai and Christian Wade. They punish sides.”