THE Leinster bus hadn’t reached Cardiff Airport last Saturday evening before Fergus McFadden started to bend the ears of his teammates and sow the seeds of preparation for this weekend’s trip to Limerick.
Nothing too detailed, just a few remarks about how satisfying it would be to double up on their European success with a Magners League title — and in Thomond Park of all places.
“Everyone’s got a pep in their step,” said McFadden. “Saturday was unbelievable and thankfully we came out in the second half and performed as we are capable of doing. But we know Saturday against Munster in Thomond Park will be as tough a challenge as last week.”
It may be more than mere coincidence that McFadden was among the first to breach the topic of the men in red, as Munster must be fresher and hungrier for game-time than the majority of Joe Schmidt’s squad.
Outstanding when ushered onto the first wave by club and country earlier this season, he has had to again bide his time on the bench with Schmidt sticking by Luke Fitzgerald during his dip in form and Brian O’Driscoll playing through the pain barrier.
“It was tough for me, it was tough for Shane Jennings, tough for others who didn’t get picked (against Northampton) but that’s the kind of players we have here, that’s the kind of squad you need to get to two finals.
“Nobody knows who’s going to get picked each week. It was tough on the Monday but the rest of the week I had a job to do. If someone had got injured after 30 minutes I would have had a big job to do if I came on. Unfortunately, I only got 15 minutes but it was nice to be on the pitch at the end.”
Images of McFadden sporting a beaming grin and a blue builder’s hat attest to that but the centre/wing knows all too well how those pictures will have been received and digested by this week’s opponents.
“We’re thinking of them having two weeks to prepare for this. They’ve been able to sit on their couches, watching us walk around the stadium doing a lap of honour. I’m sure that’s fuelling their passion.”
It is less than two months since Leinster last set the SatNav for Thomond Park and let slip an 11-point lead but the reaction to such a loss has been sublime, with Toulouse and the Saints among the seven sides they’ve beaten since.
Impressive as that run has been, it has to come with consequences both physical and mental and the reality is that Leinster have leaned heavily on their bench of late and will undoubtedly do so once again one last time.
It is a testament to the work done by Schmidt and predecessor Michael Cheika that their options in reserve are so strong but gaps remain, one of which is at hooker, where Richardt Strauss has no experienced back-up and is thus irreplaceable.
On Monday, Mike Ross spoke about how movement in his neck was still severely restricted two days after the contest in the scrum at the Millennium Stadium and the South African — who qualifies for Ireland under residency rules in 18 months — echoed that prognosis yesterday.
Modern medicine and sport science being what it is, Strauss and Ross will nevertheless pack down again in three days’ time and Leinster’s player management will only improve as the years progress.
Meanwhile, the province yesterday confirmed a new high-performance partnership with UCD which will see the club move their training, conditioning and administration operations to the Belfield campus beside the college’s Institute of Sport and Health.
Research collaborations will be developed in areas such as high-performance science, sensor technology, bioengineering and sports physiology while an educational collaboration will see an increasing number of Leinster players enrolling in UCD courses.
The partnership builds on existing strong links between UCD and Leinster Rugby.
Jonathan Sexton, Gordon D’Arcy and Devin Toner are current UCD students and four of the victorious Heineken Cup-winning team are former UCD players (Brian O’Driscoll, Sean O’Brien, Kevin McLaughlin and Fergus McFadden).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved