Monday 10 December 2018

No distractions now as all eyes on the run-in

Player diary: Fergus McFadden

Fergus McFadden celebrates scoring his side’s fourth try against Ulster in January. Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden celebrates scoring his side’s fourth try against Ulster in January. Photo: Sportsfile

Fergus McFadden

There are moments in every season that help define a year and I think after the win last weekend against Saracens, everyone hopes that it was one of those defining moments, because everyone in the organisation played their part.

Off the field, everything that could be done to get the Aviva Stadium to capacity was done. The place was draped in blue and there was not a spare seat to be had. There was a real demand for tickets. The supporters were immense. It was then up to us to do our bit on the pitch.

To be fair, that didn't start with the 23 that were selected to play on the Sunday. It started early in the week in how everyone applied themselves at training. That can sound quite simplistic. It's anything but.

The challenge always after a Six Nations campaign is how the squad picks up when the lads come back in. It is a squad that has been self-sufficient for six weeks or so and four games in the PRO14.

The guys have been managing just fine without the international players and now the dynamic shifts again.

As with every year, directing that integration is a key focus for the management and there are lots of conversations around who needs game time and who needs rest and, again, that throws up its challenges.

Fergus McFadden shaking hands with Bryan Byrne, who has been excellent with the ‘A’ team, after victory in Montpellier earlier this year. Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden shaking hands with Bryan Byrne, who has been excellent with the ‘A’ team, after victory in Montpellier earlier this year. Photo: Sportsfile

During the Six Nations, I was involved in one of the four games with Leinster while I also played in two of the five games with Ireland, so naturally I was keen to be involved in that first post-Six Nations game against the Ospreys.

Unfortunately, the game didn't go to plan individually or collectively - with me picking up an injury and the team unfortunately losing to an Ospreys team that were worthy winners. But it helped the group in a wider sense in showing that if you are not on your game, and the opposition are, you can get picked off.

Nobody wanted that to happen for a second weekend in a row so, to be fair, the international guys that had been rested for Ospreys came in on the Monday of Saracens week ready to go and those that had been involved against the Ospreys were very keen to make amends and to address the shortcomings against a very good Saracens team .

The week also had a dual focus, with the Leinster 'A' team playing on the Friday evening in Energia Park against Munster in the B&I Cup so all week, amongst everyone, there was a buzz of excitement.

Knock-out rugby does that to you though and I think it brings out the very best in players or certainly tests you in ways that other pool games or league games don't.

It's a different mentality that requires a different build up because it's all on the line.

Put it another way, had last weekend gone differently, all our eggs would now be focused on the one basket.

Instead, we have two semi-finals in the B&I Cup and the Champions Cup secure and are now hoping to add a third semi-final to the mix with a good finish to the PRO14 regular season.

Fergus McFadden celebrating the Grand Slam with Jordan Larmour. Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden celebrating the Grand Slam with Jordan Larmour. Photo: Sportsfile

Fair play to Bryan Byrne and the Leinster 'A' lads for getting the weekend off to the best of starts and then it was over to us to see could we deliver.

What the win shows is that we can compete but we also saw in the review we did on Tuesday this week that there are areas to our game that needs to get better. And fast.

The Scarlets will see in their analysis what we were shown.

They will know that if they do their stuff right, they could get a repeat performance to what they produced against us last season in the PRO12 semi-final where they beat us with 14 men.

They also won't fear coming to the Aviva Stadium. And they are now coming here as reigning PRO12 champions.

They have done it on the big stage domestically and are now doing it in Europe.

The plus for us as a squad as we prepare for another massive game against Scarlets is that we are now doing it without any distractions.

All everyone is focused on now is Leinster Rugby. Be that in the B&I Cup, the PRO14 or the Champions Cup and I for one can't wait to see where it leads to.

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