Malcolm O'Kelly: McFadden to remain Schmidt's impact man
This week, Malcolm chews over one of Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt's biggest selection quandaries – McFadden or Fitzgerald?
Joe Schmidt has had a few selection headaches for some time and after some of the individual performances on Friday night they don't look like subsiding anytime soon.
Strength and depth in the Leinster squad has been well-documented all season but it hasn’t been as apparent as it is right now at the business end of the season with the two top prizes within sight.
Fergus McFadden is the man everyone is talking about after the Glasgow win and rightly so. He has constantly proved his worth this season at both an Irish and Leinster level and he had a fantastic game in Friday night’s mauling of the Warriors. His first few touches were extremely positive early on when Leinster looked very shaky. In the first 20 minutes they didn’t do a huge amount right, but McFadden was the exception.
McFadden almost always makes an important impact when he’s brought off the bench and that’s a nice card to play when things aren't going so smooth.
Lukey is just simmering and suffering a small bit from frustration.
The big question is whether Schmidt should go with McFadden or Fitzgerald on the wing. First off, I’m a huge fan of both guys and it’s a very tough decision for Joe to make. He’s gone with Fitzgerald every time, so far, for the big occasion. Lukey is just simmering and suffering a small bit from frustration and it’s only a matter of time before his game comes back to him.
I think Joe realises McFadden almost always makes an important impact when he’s brought off the bench and that’s a nice card to play when things aren't going so smooth. He came on against Toulouse for a short spell and was quite active in the facet of play that led to O’Driscoll’s try.
'Got your back'... Fitzgerald backs up McFadden during the Six Nations
McFadden's 18 points from the boot on Friday night speaks volumes for his capabilities off the tee also, but Sexton has those duties nailed for certain. Fergus is always ready for the call from the bench and, going on that evidence, Joe will probably side with Lukey.
As Friday night’s game wore on more players in blue got up to the kind of level McFadden displayed early doors and, eventually, we saw the clinical side of Leinster we’ve become accustomed to. They were hoping for it to just happen automatically in the first half but maybe that was down to the fact that a lot of the guys hadn’t played in a while.
Glasgow were reduced to spoiling tactics early on and by the end of the first half their inability to recycle phase ball forced their hand into giving away penalties in an attempt to slow down the Leinster ruck ball. Eventually, the referee tired of the cynical play, Peter Murchie was sin binned and the game really opened up after that. Horgan’s try was the start of the onslaught and from there on Glasgow totally lost heart and any direction in their play.
There are seven days to prepare for Ulster in the semi-final and then another eight before the Heineken Cup final and, although Ulster put in a strong display in against the Dragons on Friday night, I reckon they won’t be able to overturn Leinster for a Magners League final berth.
Ulster up for it
All credit to Ulster, they have come on leaps and bounds this year and have proven they can mix it with the top teams. They’ve showed consistency and they proved they can win away from home, but I think they’ll be up against it at the RDS.
On the other hand, in these one-off games it’s always going to be tight. It would be a blow to Leinster’s morale if it didn’t go their way and if that was to happen, you’d have to be thinking about the advantage of focusing on just the one front from there on.
The reality is, however, Ulster have been twice blown away by the style of rugby Leinster are playing at the moment. If it was the final beckoning I think it would be a different matter as Leinster would be coming off the back of the Heineken Cup final and wouldn’t be as fresh.
They [Leinster] are primed and brimming full of confidence, playing an exciting style of attacking rugby that is built on a foundation of a hard-work ethic.
I can imagine all personnel will have their hands up for this mouth-watering encounter, but with the squad as competitive as it is only the lads who are 100 per cent fit will start. This is the business end of the season and to be successful on two fronts will be incredibly tough and the type of performances necessary in the next three weeks will demand fresh bodies.
If any squad is capable of clinching both prizes it’s Leinster. They are primed and brimming full of confidence, playing an exciting style of attacking rugby that is built on a foundation of a hard-work ethic.
Alan Quinlan pictured carrying his son AJ before his final game at Thomond Park
As for Munster and Connacht, which was somewhat of an non-event, it was a fitting curtain drop on Alan Quinlan’s career to see him post a try and walk out on the field with his son AJ.
Captain the side, score a try, win the match and your son alongside you – you can’t ask for much better than that for what could be your final game on home soil.