McFadden ready to shine in spotlight
WHEN Fergus McFadden goes to work he has to cope with a level of competition that is not experienced in too many other professions.
He is pitching on a daily basis for scarce openings to give full vent to his talents as if every training session is an audition. He is also doing so out of position, for McFadden has never started in his favoured inside-centre position for his country in 16 outings.
He has played at 13 but for a player whose natural habitat is the No 12 shirt it just isn't the same, especially given the competition at 13 at both national and club level.
So McFadden has spent time reinventing himself on the wing. He has done marvellously well there but he is still in competition in an environment where there is no room for error. Those charged with passing judgment on his performances have to evaluate his standing with pitiless objectivity.
A full appreciation of McFadden's difficulties can only be gauged when you consider the competition he has faced for one of the wing berths in this season's Six Nations Championship – Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald.
To suggest that his position is daunting is to be guilty of under-statement.
It's also been hugely frustrating. He has been involved in all the training camps since the start of the championship but this is the first time he'll be staying for the duration. McFadden starts against France for what will be his 17th Ireland cap.
"At the start of the championship I was very disappointed not to be involved," said McFadden. "It is frustrating but I knew it was going to be a long campaign and thankfully things have fallen my way this week.
"I've learned the best way to get on with things is to look forward to your next game. I had a match last week with Leinster that got my mind off it.
"I got 75 minutes against Newport at the weekend and it was a release in a way. It's the ultimate cliche but you really do have to take it week by week.
"Last week I wasn't involved, this week I'm starting. So the difference a week can make is huge so you always have to stay positive."
Two weeks ago the 27-year-old watched Ireland implode at Murrayfield from the comfort of his couch. It was car crash tv, all the more maddening because he wasn't there and couldn't help.
"It was very disappointing to see Ireland lose a match we should never have lost. You have to put that hurt to the side and realise this is going to be a big test for us," he said. "We are facing a France team who are wounded and are full of talent. They are dangerous and they can turn up and play some unbelievable rugby.
"We have to be conscious of that. We've only beaten France twice since Drico (Brian O'Driscoll) scored those three tries in Paris. So, twice since 2001 ... .?"
McFadden divides opinion in Irish rugby. It's been suggested the reason he hasn't been played at 12 is because some in the coaching set-up are unconvinced by his distribution, especially off his left. Assistant coach Les Kiss is a self-confessed fan and the Australian will certainly have had a large say in McFadden being selected over his provincial colleague Luke Fitzgerald, who is on the bench for the second successive match.
McFadden is understandably chuffed to be starting at Lansdowne Road this weekend. He wasn't tipped off that he was included before the team was revealed to the squad on Tuesday evening.
"Generally when you're not pulled aside for a chat by Declan it's a good thing so you'd be avoiding it as much as possible! When I wasn't called before the announcement I didn't know what to think or what it meant. Look, I'm in this week and I'll be desperate to take my chance. It's one I've been waiting for."
It didn't hurt his selection prospects that he is a respected place-kicker with Leinster and has invariably been their choice for duties from the tee in Jonathan Sexton's absence. He will take part in the kicking practice today but doesn't expect to be called on.
"Paddy (Jackson) will kick on Saturday. We've full confidence in Paddy," he said. "He probably didn't have his ideal day in his first Test match but he has proven he is a good and consistent place kicker for Ulster.
"And Ian (Madigan) will be kicking if he's starting at out-half. I will be working on my kicking but I work on it every week.
"I don't know if my kicking abilities played any part in my selection. As far as I'm concerned I'm picked because I'm the right option on the right wing. It's about contributing to that role as best I can. If I'm called on to do some place-kicking then well and good."
McFadden has clearly developed a thick skin when it comes to the fluctuating fortunes of his career. There was no deep and meaningful conversation with Declan Kidney when he was omitted from the squads for the opening three games. Neither was there any query of why his number came up.
"You could talk to a coach for two hours about why he didn't pick you. The decision was made. When it's done, it's done ... that's sport and you get on with it.
"The French are a wounded team, probably more so than we are. When was the last time they lost three on the trot? We have to be conscious of that.
"For me I'll do my work on who my opponent is and will prepare as best I can. I'm going to enjoy this week and seek to get the very best from my performance.
"I'm approaching this challenge as the underdog. I like that tag. When my back is against the wall I get the best out of myself.
"It's about time we started beating the French. And where better than at the Aviva?"