Friday 20 April 2018

McFadden unfazed by North as he looks to atone for Six nations

DUBLIN, IRELAND - FEBRUARY 05: George North of Wales is tackled by Fergus McFadden during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales on February 5, 2012 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - FEBRUARY 05: George North of Wales is tackled by Fergus McFadden during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales on February 5, 2012 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

FACING North is never easy -- just ask Fergus McFadden.

The last time he came up against all 6ft 4ins and 17 stone of Scarlets and Wales winger George North was at Lansdowne Road in February, when the marauding Welshman stepped outside Gordon D'Arcy and into the Kildare native's path.

He blew the off-balance McFadden out of the way before throwing an audacious offload that set Jonathan Davies up for a key try for the visitors, who left Dublin with the spoils and marched on to claim the Grand Slam.

It is a blot on the Leinster man's ever-improving back catalogue.

At lunchtime today, McFadden will take to the field at Parc y Scarlets and, although they start on opposite wings, both players' desire for involvement means a meeting in the middle is inevitable.

There is plenty of hype about the 20-year-old North, but despite his uncomfortable memories, McFadden is not buying into it too much.

"Obviously, I would have copped some stick from critics about that incident, but there are occasions, I'm sure, where he'll be on the receiving end and, hopefully, he'll be on the receiving end this week," he said.

Powerful

"I just think you can't give him too much space, you close his space as much as possible. You can't give them too much respect either. I know he is a big guy and is extremely powerful, but, at the end of the day, we have some strong backs ourselves and it is not as if we are coming up against Jonah Lomu here.

"He is a big, strong, powerful guy, but if we close the space down and don't let him get into the game, then that will be a long way to shutting his threat off."

McFadden admits that the coming together in February was something he had to come to terms with, and Declan Kidney used him as a substitute in the rest of the games. He recovered his form to help Leinster to the Heineken Cup and then started all three of Ireland's games in New Zealand.

"That time was disappointing for me," he said. "It was my first really, really big start in the centre for Ireland and we lost to the last-minute penalty by Leigh Halfpenny. But, you have ups and downs. It was disappointing, but I went on to win the Heineken Cup and you take the good with the bad."

His Ireland experiences have been getting "better and better" he says, despite the 60-0 end-of-season defeat to the All Blacks at Hamilton that soured the memory of winning the European Cup just a few weeks before.

Professionals always speak about drawing a line under the past, but McFadden admits it is not always that easy.

"You draw a line under it and you get on with it, but I don't have the little buzzer from 'Men In Black'," he said. "There are memories that are in my head both good and bad. You have to take both, it is not all a bed of roses and you know that coming into it. It is what you make it.

"Obviously, it is harder to draw a line under losing by 60 points to a team, because that is embarrassing. You go out there to represent yourself, your friends, your family and your country, so it is not nice. A defeat like that is harder to get over, definitely, but the Heineken Cup was one of the best days of my career and it was a great memory I have, even though it might be easier to draw a line under it."

On Thursday, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt admitted that McFadden's versatility "is both an asset to him and sometimes it is a little bit of a liability, because he will also do whatever is best for the team" before moving him on to the wing to accommodate the returning D'Arcy.

The player himself understands the argument, one Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald can empathise with, but he just wants to play.

"I don't want to be the jack of all trades, but at the end of the day, when I'm being picked on the team, I can't complain," he explained.

"My favourite position is 12 -- and in the long term, fingers crossed, that is where I'll put my stamp. But at the moment, I'm happy to adjust.

"I'm no Jamie Roberts, that's pretty clear, but I punch above my weight. Physicality, hitting rucks and bits of distribution and offering a kicking option are all strengths of my game.

"On the wing, you might not get the same chance to stamp your authority on a match. I like the physicality in there, the fact that you have a lot of involvement and make more tackles."

This afternoon, he wants Leinster to build on their narrow win over Exeter by collecting another win in Llanelli ahead of the December double-header with Clermont.

"Definitely, going into those Clermont games, without looking forward too much, winning this week is huge," the VW Ireland ambassador said.

"Going into those games with the added pressure of knowing that we have to win both is a pressure that we don't want to have put on ourselves. This week, things are in our control and, hopefully, improving on our performance last week -- hopefully -- we can do a job over there."

Defence is the key, McFadden explained, describing the concession of 20 tries in seven games as "a ridiculous stat" and called on his team-mates to be more ruthless.

"If you want to win trophies then you have to have a great defence. People talk about the brand of rugby Leinster played last year and about our attack, but we weren't conceding many tries either. If you want to be champions, you have to have a great defence."

Volkswagen Ireland is official car partner to Leinster (opposite page) and the Irish Rugby team. To win exclusive fan prizes visit www.facebook.com/vwireland

Irish Independent

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