Monday 22 July 2019

Fergus McFadden happy to be centre of attention

Fergus McFadden is hungry for game time following an injury-interrupted 2016/17 campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden is hungry for game time following an injury-interrupted 2016/17 campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For a while there, Fergus McFadden thought he had found himself a more permanent home on the wing but deep down, he knew that his versatility would likely lead him back into the centre at some point.

Such is Leinster's strength in depth across the board, switching between the two positions has its merits and drawbacks but McFadden has generally used it to his advantage throughout his 10-year professional career.

The regularity with which Joe Schmidt includes McFadden in his squads tells you everything about how highly he is regarded by the Ireland boss, but it was the Kiwi who sent him on his journey to becoming a utility back.


Before Schmidt arrived at Leinster in 2010, McFadden primarily saw himself as a midfielder but there was one, or two in this instance, major obstacles standing in his way of getting significant game time in his preferred position.

"Since Joe came in I've focused more on the wing," the 31-year old recalled.

"I'm a winger that can play centre, whereas previously I was a centre who could play wing. It's got its positives and negatives.

"But having backs who can play in numerous positions at a high level in your squad is very important, and I'm just happy that I can play in those positions.

"There was the issue of Gordon (D'Arcy) and Drico (Brian O'Driscoll) playing there, so it was a tough argument to get one of them dropped at the time! So he (Schmidt) pushed me.

"When there was an injury to Shane Horgan I think, I did quite well (on the wing) and kicked on from there. That was that."

Leinster's seemingly never-ending talent pool will be stretched for Saturday's season-opener against the Dragons as a host of midfielders are unavailable.

The club's most important utility player Isa Nacewa has already slotted into inside centre during pre-season and with Leo Cullen likely to give the exciting Jimmy O'Brien the nod from the start at 13, who lines out in the number 12 jersey will have been the major issue in UCD this week.

McFadden started on the wing against Bath last week but, as always, he is ready to answer the call if he is asked to play a role that is just as familiar to him.

"If I wasn't injured so much last year I think I'd have played in the centre, because I always have done that in my time with Leinster, but the opportunity didn't arise," he explained.

"This season I'd like to think I'll get some time there, whether with guys injured or away on camp. We're thin on the ground there now, with injuries, so I'll be ready to go when called.

"The easier one to transition to is to the wing. I find you need a few games under your belt in the centre to get really comfortable.

"There's a lot more happening in defence, a lot more decisions need to be made and a lot more is expected of you in terms of distribution and helping the 10 out.

"But listen, to be able to play on the wing and in the centre, it gives you more of an appreciation into what's going on when you're in the centre as to what the winger is thinking as a winger as well. So it can have its bonuses. There are plenty of positives like that.

"It can be a tough one because when you are a utility back you can be expected to play at a really high level with only a short amount of game time. You've just got to get the reps in in training and try to get the most out of it there."

A thigh injury at the start of last season cost McFadden the first five months of the new campaign. It also scuppered his chance of making an impression on Stuart Lancaster who had just arrived in Dublin.

The emotion of what had been a hugely frustrating period for the Kildare native came out at the Aviva in April when he crossed for the decisive try in Leinster's Champions Cup quarter-final win over Wasps. It was an all too fleeting moment that has left him hungry for more.

"It's nice to have the consistency of him (Lancaster) here, it's his first full season with us," McFadden added.

"He had such a good impact last year but it was after two months which was unusual.

"He's now starting off with drills and structures that we're looking to implement.

"For me, last year, to be honest, was very, very frustrating because a new coach came in and literally as that happened, I was injured for five months.

"Then other people had been really doing well in my position so I was playing catch-up when I came back.

"I'm looking forward to this year and having a fresh start and getting into the starting team for the start of the season and the big games."

Irish Independent

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