Guinness PRO14 - Leinster v Connacht
It’s a bold statement given that era’s rich vein of success and the identity of the men who delivered it but then McFadden is one of the decreasing number of players who connect that golden age with the current climate.
And it is a statement given added weight by events in Limerick on St Stephen’s Day.
The 31-year-old was one of 14 Ireland internationals either unused or unavailable for the Guinness PRO14 game against Munster. Isa Nacewa and Scott Fardy were others to stand down and yet the visitors claimed a 10-point win against a strong Munster outfit.
“There’s a lot more strength in depth,” McFadden explained. “The production of younger talent … there’s a new wave coming through. That’s a lot more than there was when it was the likes of me, Seán O’Brien, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy.
“We came through together but over the past two years there’s been 15 lads who have stepped up and can be put in for the biggest games in
Europe. So, it’s hard to compare but competition for places is at an all-time high and that’s a good thing.”
Maybe a more relevant comparison is with this time 12 months ago. The buzz around Leinster was similarly strong then but the season ended with the province falling at the semi-final stages in both league and Europe.
“Last year hurt a lot, with that semi-final against Clermont and that semi against Scarlets. They are, in my opinion, medals that got away. We’re going to make sure that that’s not going to happen to us again this year.”
He knows it will be April again before confirmation or otherwise of their progress can be stamped but he looks at Leinster’s loss to Munster on the road last Christmas and their win earlier this week and sees a graph pointing in a positive direction.
Leinster lost their round two Champions Cup tie in Montpellier in October of 2016 but are four rounds unbeaten this term in what is an exceptionally tough pool while their PRO14 form is as promising as it was then, with just two losses absorbed after 11 games.
he youngsters are better for the last 12 months, too.
McFadden sees that personified in Ross Byrne who again deputised for Jonathan Sexton earlier this week and who he feels should have no difficulty in making what increasingly looks like the
inevitable next step up to Test honours with Ireland.
The task facing Leinster going forward is discovering the right balance between the fresher faces and those like McFadden and Sexton who bring the know-how and the proven quality required to breach the finishing line first.
Sexton is at least in line to start the next day, against Connacht at the RDS on New Year’s Day, having passed the return-to-play protocols
following the concussion
suffered against Exeter Chiefs at the Aviva Stadium earlier this month.
James Ryan, Jack McGrath, and Richardt Strauss won’t make that one after suffering injuries last Tuesday. McFadden, it seems, will be drafted back in having been forced to look on from afar at the likes of Jordan Larmour and James Lowe lighting up the stage.
Leinster’s back three in Limerick boasted an average age of just over 23. The one featuring McFadden, Nacewa, and Rob Kearney the week before came in at over 32. The clock is against him but McFadden doesn’t appear to be merely keeping time.
Leo Cullen turned to him for both of the back-to-back dates with Exeter this month and McFadden was among those chosen few invited to Carton House by Joe Schmidt for the annual two-day
Christmas camp last week.
“Nice to know he hasn’t fully forgotten about me,” he joked yesterday. “I had a bit of a spike back up to the level of form I was happy with in those back-to-back matches and for the two games before that.
“Just getting through a five-game period without injury, which I’ve struggled to put
together over the past year … the body is still feeling great and it was nice to get that bit of kudos. But for the moment it’s just about staying in the first XV at Leinster for me.”