Praise for Fergus McFadden is a regular thing here on the pages of The Touchline, but the simple fact is that the 25-year-old is having a superb season for Leinster. His display against the Ospreys on Friday night showed exactly why he should have been starting at 12 for Ireland during the Six Nations. Gordon D’Arcy had a predictably disappointing tournament and he has been on the decline for the last year at least.
Despite some intermittent flashes of his old self, the 32-year-old has been far from his best for Leinster and the time has come to replace him at both provincial and international level. McFadden is his obvious and deserving successor, as proven by his performance against the Ospreys. He was as busy as usual with ball in hand, making several half-breaks as well as some other strong carries in traffic. He almost scored in the 56th minute after dummying and using his strong fend to break the Ospreys’ defence. Richard Fussell did well to haul him down.
Much has been made of McFadden’s missed tackle on George North in the Six Nations opener against Wales. It was a spectacular one and isn’t easy to forget, but that incident was far from the norm for the Kilkenny man. It wasn’t even McFadden’s tackle to make; he was forced to step in due to D’Arcy’s failure to take his man. Against the Ospreys, McFadden’s defensive game was solid, with one stand-out hit on Jason Tipuric just before half time, where he drove the Welsh international 5 metres backwards.
His place kicking was a little less smooth than usual, although he still converted 6 from 8. The best effort of the night came from inside Leinster’s half. McFadden’s routine off the tee is best described as unfussy. He certainly takes less time than other leading place-kickers but he consistently gets the job done. He is the PRO12’s most accurate place-kicker and will look to continue the massive improvements he has made in this area. Having him alongside Sexton for Ireland would also leave us with a proven goal-kicker on the field if Ian Madigan were to be used off the bench.
McFadden was clearly motivated to show what he offers after a frustrating Six Nations spent mainly on the bench. Another highlight of his performance was the booming 70m clearance kick out of Leinster’s 22 in the first half. It was a beautiful spiral and showed how hard the centre is working on his core skills. His ever-improving handling also showed up well as himself and Madigan worked a smart loop to release Nacewa earlier in the game.
All the signs this season point to a player who is working hard to improve himself and is really starting to peak. At the other end of the scale, D’Arcy is showing clear signs of decline and has passed his peak as a player. McFadden is the best inside centre in Ireland right now and if he continues this type of form, he must start at 12 on the Irish tour to New Zealand.
*Do you agree that McFadden is the answer for Ireland at 12? Do you think D’Arcy still has time left at international level? Would you like to see other players given a chance at inside centre? As always, feel free to drop a comment below with your thoughts and views!