FERGUS MCFADDEN BELIEVES France are more than capable of shelving their recent, scrappy play and putting Ireland through the wringer this weekend.
Fresh off a try-scoring appearance off the bench — replacing matinee idol Brian O’Driscoll against Italy — McFadden is an outside bet to start on the wing in Paris. Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney are the men in possession and Joe Schmidt was keen to praise left winger Kearney, in particular, after the 46-7 win over the Italians.
Schmidt will be well aware from his time at Leinster, however, that McFadden is a solid wing option away from home. He started on the right in the 2012 Heineken Cup final against Ulster and was Leinster’s stand-out player in the away defeat to Clermont at Stade Marcel Michelin.
Aside from provincial duties, McFadden has played away to France in 2011 [Bordeaux] and 2012 [Paris] and notes the hostile atmosphere that visiting sides often face. Keeping the fans from raising their collective voice will be one of Ireland’s main jobs in the opening stages. “Stopping their go-forward will be important,” he continued. “They’ll be looking for that, to get the crowd behind them so it’ll be a big day for our defence.”
He expects the Six Nations’ curtain-dropper to be tricky. Definitely tricky. “There will be a backlash from France,” he declared. “They’re not playing their best rugby in the last couple of games and they’ll want to finish on a high in Paris. It’s a really tough fixture, tough game, and with the Six Nations championship on the line, it is a massive match for us.
They’re on six points; same as us. I know their points difference isn’t as good and they have been scraping by. That’s the danger; if you give them chances they will score tries. The Scottish were pounding their line for phases and phases. They went wide and Yoann Huget intercepted and went the length of the field. A 14-point swing, that typifies the way the French are playing at the minute. They’re definitely very dangerous.” Asked what victory would mean to him, the two-time Heineken Cup winner continued with the theme picked up by Jonny Sexton on Monday. He said:
It means an awful lot. I haven’t won anything yet with Ireland and playing for your country is the ultimate. If we could win this trophy on Saturday it will probably be the best [win] of my career.”
Ireland’s players have preached the importance of focusing on each game as it is presented to them. Les Kiss went so far as to speak about 80 one-minute battles before the England game. “We haven’t looked at the points difference, we haven’t looked at the table,” he said, “but we’re a very good place right now and if we concentrate on our performance we’ll be halfway there.”
The 27-year-old believes Ireland’s discipline and set-piece play have been vital elements in their quest for the championship. Quality rucking has also been a highlight of the team’s play and McFadden believes the head coach must take a lot of the credit. “Under Joe,” he said, “it doesn’t matter what number you have on your back, he likes you to be effective. That’s the way this game has gone. You’ve got to be effective there and if you’re not you’ll be found out pretty quickly.”
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
There is little doubt that Schmidt would have replayed the concession of Leonardo Sarto’s try [only the second Ireland have conceded all championship] are a ‘no repeats’ area of Ireland’s game. The video review sessions primarily take place on a Monday so it was no surprise to hear Rob Kearney — one of the three men Sarto evaded — was out practicing his tackling technique on Tuesday. The fullback is not the only one who needs to be en garde this Saturday.
McFadden said, “That’s the key this weekend. They’ll punish you if you make those sorts of mistakes. The likes of Huget, [Brice] Dulin and [Maxime] Machenaud sniping around the ruck, they can really make you pay so we need to be aware.