Wasps forward Nathan Hughes left himself a hostage to fortune last week when he told a local newspaper that he didn’t know a single Leinster player.
Sure enough, Leinster put the Fijian in his place by claiming four points in this Champions Cup encounter although Hughes won’t have been the only one left puzzled by the name of Leinster’s two-try hero.
Darragh Fanning spent most of his 20s flitting between AIL rugby and semi-pro stuff in Australia, but he franked an amazing upturn in his fortunes last night by claiming two touch downs on what was his European debut.
“He might know a few more names after tonight, hopefully,” said Leinster coach Matt O’Connor of Hughes.
“Darragh does what he does. He works incredibly hard on his game. He has played every minute for us this season.
“He doesn’t put in a bad performance and you can’t ask any more from a guy who has only been in the environment 12 months and a 28-year-old getting better and better is a great testament to the guy.”
It was Joe Schmidt who first plucked Fanning from the obscurity of club rugby but he has made a case for inclusion when the likes of Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald finally make it back.
“I don’t want to be a guy who when these guys aren’t about gets picked, Fanning admitted. “I want to be competition for them and competition drives a squad. It pushes me and I hope the competition drives them as well.”
That Leinster’s other standout individual story on the night was captain Jamie Heaslip seemed fitting given the mix of players covered in stardust and those for whom the big headlines have yet to be earned or written.
“He was outstanding,” said O’Connor. “His involvements across the game week on week are outstanding. He led us all week and was outstanding all week against a good back-row.”
It could have been one of the dog days given the way in which the first-half unfolded but O’Connor spoke of an inner belief afterwards and admitted that the team’s past successes — and scrapes — stood to them when needed.
“Success is huge in that regard. It gives guys a hell of a lot of belief and it gives you somewhere to go when things are tough. We weren’t being outplayed. We weren’t being beaten up, so from that end it gives the guys the confidence to back their processes. To keep doing the things we do in training … from that end it was very, very pleasing. We didn’t go off-script, we didn’t chase the game, we just kept doing what we do. From that end, it was a really, really pleasing result.”
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