When you think of Ireland and centres, plenty of great names leap out at you; Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Rob Henderson and the greatest of all, Mike Gibson. Yet going into the 2012 Six Nations, Ireland are set to be without the talismanic O’Driscoll, whilst D’Arcy his partner in crime looks as though his time in international rugby is over (or perhaps should be).
Yet looking at the way Leinster have been performing this season, there has been no damaging effect. A centre combination of Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley against Bath in the Heineken Cup tore to shreds any defensive plans the visitors had practiced. O’Malley may be operating in the holy 13 shirt of O’Driscoll, but it was the man inside him who left a lasting impression.
Ireland’s search for a long term successor for D’Arcy has been ongoing for a while. He is no longer the player who tore up the Six Nations back in 2004, when he was voted Player of the Tournament and nominated for IRB Player of the Year, so much so that his inclusion in the 2011 Rugby World Cup squad was arguably a surprise. Whilst Paddy Wallace has also operated inside Ronan O’Gara or Johnny Sexton over the last few years, his selection has often been temporary.
Enter McFadden. Now 25, he has bided his time waiting for his international break, with only 6 appearances for Ireland so far, five on the wing, including two as a replacement. They have come with two tries, against France in last year’s Six Nations and also against Russia at the Rugby World Cup. Although not the biggest of centres in world rugby at 5″11, he has the physicality and intelligence to operate in the role comfortably, aided by having his Leinster team mate Sexton on his inside.
Whilst D’Arcy in the past with look to glide and cut his way round defenders, McFadden has the power to charge over the top, along with the slight of hand to release those around him. Some of the touches that he showed against Bath; ball in two hands always looking for space, a neat flick around the back to O’Malley and miss pass to Rob Kearney, illustrated how good his passing game is. In a Leinster back line brimming with pace and skill, McFadden can be found at it’s core. Come February, he will be in Ireland’s too.
by Ben Coles