WHEN ASKED TO reflect on his fireman’s lift on Australia’s Israel Folau this summer, Lions winger George North commented it was ‘one of those things to tell the grandchildren’.
Darragh Fanning will face off against the Welshman at Donnybrook tonight and may have a few stories for his future grandchildren come full-time. Fanning gets his second start of Leinster’s pre-season when he lines out on the right wing against Northampton Saints.
North, who, at 21, is five years Fanning’s junior, confirmed his status as one of rugby’s most devastating backline powerhouses by scoring tries in Test wins over Australia in Brisbane and Sydney.
Fanning returned from a two-year stint Down Under, where he played semi-professional rugby with club side Tuggeranong Vikings. Prior to his time abroad, the Dubliner played in the RaboDirect Pro12 and Amlin Challenge Cup with Connacht. He was handed the captaincy at Ulster Bank League side St Mary’s but may not feature too much this term for the Templeogue club.
James Norton is Fanning’s coach at St Mary’s and, as a 22-times capped winger [11 tries] with Leinster, knows what it takes to make it at provincial level.
“Darragh has more than enough talent to become a permanent fixture in the Leinster squad,” Norton told TheScore.ie. “He is a very, very powerful player and a strong runner. In that regard, he will be well matched with George North.
We chose him as captain for our upcoming season as he is a proven leader on the field and does a lot of the talking. Unfortunately, we may not see a lot of him this season. [Leinster coach] Matt O’Connor has been impressed with him in pre-season and that is reflected in his starts [against Ulster and Northampton].”
Leinster go into 2013/14 having lost Isa Nacewa, Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr, among others, who all featured on the wing for the Blues last season. Norton is confident that Fanning will take his opportunities with the Leinster senior squad and prove a viable option on the wing.
The Ulster Bank League, he adds, is still an important pathway for players to break into provincial set-ups. Indeed, Leinster’s Aaron Dundon, Leo Auva’a and Jordi Murphy featured in the UBL last season and Munster often dipped into the Cork Constitution [Ivan Dineen, Ian Nagle] and UL Bohemians [JJ Hanrahan, Cathal Sheridan] squads for league clashes.
Norton says the majority of the St Mary’s squad will be at Donnybrook this evening to cheer on Fanning [6' 3", 16st] as he takes on North [6' 5", 17st 2lbs] in a Goliath versus Goliath clash. He insists the St Mary’s winger will not be too nervous about the prospect of facing a Lion and doubts North will repeat the famous fireman’s lift.
He declared, “If Darragh gets good ball in space, he will cause North more than a few problems himself.”