Friday 20 September 2019

Player's Diary: Irish depth in key positions bodes well for future and for provinces too

Fergus McFadden

Fergus McFadden is looking forward to a hectic spell of fixtures. Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden is looking forward to a hectic spell of fixtures. Photo: Sportsfile
Max Deegan sharpening up at training ahead of the visit of Ospreys. Photo: Sportsfile
Head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

What a day for Irish rugby last Saturday was as we beat the All Blacks for the first time ever on home turf in Lansdowne Road. I hadn't been to a game in a long time as a spectator and I certainly picked the right one to get to! I think the performance in general by the whole 23 players was the most compete showing from an Irish side that I have ever seen.

From the first five minutes when New Zealand got that lineout inside the Irish 22 and were pounding our line with everything they had until an outstanding turnover by CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier, you could tell Ireland had an element of calmness and control that I haven't seen before in such a big game.

It wasn't by fluke either or a bounce of a ball or an element of luck. This was good, really good from Ireland against an All Blacks team that came to play. OK, they were missing a few players through injury, but so were we. Both teams picked as strong a hand as they could and went at it.


I can't remember the last time the All Blacks have not managed to score a try in 80 minutes of rugby but I think that alone summed up just how good Ireland were.

The most positive thing going forward for Ireland was the depth shown in different positions with the likes of Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw, Seán O'Brien and Dan Leavy on the sidelines. Other fellas just stepped up and got on with it. There was no disruption and that is a credit to the system Joe has in place but also to the lads in that they had their homework done. They know what was needed and they delivered.

On that, I was gutted for Seán who had his first start for Ireland in so long after working to get back from injury setbacks only to break his arm against the Pumas the week before. He has also a nice run of games under his belt with Leinster for the first time in a while and you could see how much it meant to him to pull on a blue jersey and then a green one.

It's a tough pill to swallow for him as I know myself but I have no doubt he will be back to full fitness after Christmas for the Six Nations.

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Likewise with Robbie Henshaw and Dan Leavy having to pull out of the game with knocks it must have been tough viewing in some ways but there is no doubt they will be back in that team again when fully fit.

All the men who stepped up in the respective positions stood up on the biggest of days to show that Ireland now have a squad deep enough to go into 2019 and the World Cup with the highest of aspirations.

The root of this Irish performance is a reflection of course of what Joe has built since taking over in November of 2013 but also what the provinces have also done in this time. Leinster, Munster Connacht and Ulster all had outstanding representatives that played vital parts in the win but that doesn't just come from going into camp and doing the business in Carton House.

That comes from players going away and being exposed to equally good levels of coaching and preparation at the provinces and that collective is a key element too. The standards that all four clubs have generated in that time shouldn't be dismissed either.

With Ireland in action, the Guinness PRO14 had a few weeks' sabbatical with no games taking place so for the clubs this November period is also crucial from a league standing perspective with important games and opportunities coming up. It's also a good chance for lads to get away and recharge the batteries.

This week Leinster will face an Ospreys side who have the ability to beat any team in the league on their day and it will be a huge challenge for us at home in the RDS to remain unbeaten in this block of matches after a gutsy win against the Kings in South Africa three weeks ago.

With so many players in camp from Leinster there will be an opportunity and a responsibility for a pool of guys to stick up their hands to Leo and Stuart going forward into a pivotal December block of matches.

Ten games in ten weeks, it's a massive chunk of games that goes a long way to deciding end-of-season positions. But you have to take it one step at a time because if you lose focus on the here and now - tonight and the Ospreys - you will get picked off.


So it's an exciting fixture where some younger guys will be getting their first starts for the club in the RDS or will be coming off the bench for their debuts. It is a day they will never forget.

We have all been really impressed with how the young lads have gone so far this season. The Celtic Cup was a great window for them to show what they could do and it was brilliant to see them bring a first trophy of the season back to UCD. And since then they have put the heads down again and have reset their targets and gone again. They all knew there would be opportunities and I think that really helped focus the minds.

You can't but be excited for them and their families. And everyone that helped them on their way. The From The Ground Up model we have in Leinster means that everyone plays their part in that journey and everyone should be proud to see those lads this evening.

Let's hope it is a winning start to long careers in the blue jersey so I hope to see a packed RDS home crowd there to make the difference for them!

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