Fergus McFadden insists that the players lining out for the Ireland Wolfhounds tonight hope their performances can lead to selection against Italy in next week’s RBS 6 Nations opener.
Fergus McFadden is part of an exciting Wolfhounds back-line for the annual pre-Six Nations match against England Saxons, donning the number 14 jersey at Irish Independent Park (kick-off 7.45pm).
The selected backs division includes the Leinster quartet of McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald, Gordon D’Arcy and Ian Madigan with the fit-again Keith Earls joining D’Arcy in midfield, his Munster colleague Felix Jones captaining the team from full-back and Connacht’s Kieran Marmion starting at scrum half.
McFadden believes there are places up for grabs in the Six Nations if the performances are good enough, stating: “Joe (Schmidt) has showed his intent as to what he is looking to get out of it. There will probably be some guys who will be heavily involved the following week (against Italy). It’s just an opportunity to stick their hand up really.
“It’s an exciting mix (in the back-three). Felix has been going well for Munster. Lukey has played a lot of his rugby in the centre and is an accomplished winger. It’s an exciting back-line in general…Keith and Gordon in there as well in the centre, so hopefully we get a bit of ball and show what we can do.”
McFadden has made four 80-minute appearances for Leinster following injury and after a stop-start spell before Christmas, the prospect of playing in the Six Nations has him champing at the bit for game-time in the green shirt.
Another solid performance against the Saxons, he hopes, will leave the Irish management with a selection headache just seven days before the 2015 Championship gets underway. But, despite having played under Schmidt at provincial and international level, the Kildare man has no indication of where he stands regarding the Rome fixture.
“After being coached by Joe (at Leinster) for a few years and then in with Ireland, you would think I would know him a bit better as well, but not really to be honest. He is quite hard to read with what he does,” admitted McFadden.
“At this stage I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m trying to do what I’m doing best and whatever team Joe picks next week will be the team he thinks is best to beat Italy. I’ll just look to do the best I can against the Saxons to try and put my hand up.
“There are a good few people in that boat. I don’t think there is anyone that is playing who wouldn’t be looking to be in the mix for selection next week. Joe has really highlighted and put emphasis on how much of an opportunity it is for us (against) a strong Saxons team as well at Independent Park, so it is a pretty good fixture to play in.”
Ireland welcome back Sean O’Brien for his first game in an Irish jersey since the November 2013 defeat to New Zealand. McFadden is delighted that O’Brien is back to full fitness and said that the Tullow native is raring to go.
“Seanie couldn’t run for a while, so we were getting into him, calling him the ‘Michelin man’ for a while…it was just a bit of craic! But he is in great nick now, looking sharp on the pitch. He’s a massive player for Irish and Leinster rugby. It’s great to see him back fit after the trouble he has had with his shoulder.
“Seanie’s got an X-factor in fairness – his carries, his work-rate and his chat off the field. He’s a real leader. I’m sure he will be blowing with his first 80 minutes in a long time. He’s a massive asset to Irish rugby.”
Both sides have had contrasting build-ups to tonight’s game. Stuart Lancaster has had the England Saxons side train in a separate location to the England squad picked for the Six Nations.
Schmidt, meanwhile, has had the full 46 players in his extended squad train together, with Iain Henderson stating this week that everyone in camp is learning how the defending champions will play in the upcoming Championship.
McFadden explained: “From Joe’s selections last year and this year with the Wolfhounds, you don’t get picked for the Wolfhounds and be disappointed. There’s a lot of good players who didn’t get picked for the Wolfhounds who are playing provincially. The guys who are picked, we just need to try get together and keep things as simple as possible.
“The prep, there hasn’t been a whole lot of prep leading into the game. Do those simple things that you have been doing for your provinces as a collective and don’t be looking to be a world beater, and we will be in a good place to win.”
The Saxons have named an impressive back-line and McFadden is excited by the challenge their wide men, Chris Ashton and Marland Yarde, will bring. Both have Test experience with Ashton scoring 19 tries in 39 games for England. Yarde is a more recent graduate to international rugby having won his first cap in 2013.
“Ashton is playing some of his best rugby in a long time for Saracens and Marland Yarde is a bit of a weapon as well. He’s a big unit. They have kinda got an embarrassment of riches in the back-three at the moment.
“I’m sure the likes of Yarde and Ashton, after being involved for the last few years directly with England, will be looking to try and put their hands up and get in there too,” added the 28-times capped McFadden.