I hope that while Fergus McFadden at last is getting a start at 13, his first in any class of jersey since 2010, it doesn’t coincide with the odds lengthening on his going to New Zealand next month. It is unthinkable that Declan Kidney could leave behind a goal kicker who since Christmas has played on both wings, and at inside centre for Leinster– and who represents the best understudy to Brian O’Driscoll – but two things conspired against him this week.
The first is the rapid progress of Gordon D’Arcy, playing catch-up since a knee op in June. And the second is the positive impression made by Felix Jones.
Kidney understandably is hot on players completing a seven week pre-season and then getting decent game time under their belts before boarding the plane for NZ. D’Arcy’s surgery in June clearly put him on an uphill climb here but now it seems he’s tipping away, and the expectation inside the camp is that he will make it. Of course it will be dramatic, as D’Arcy likes it. In which case McFadden is back battling for a cover spot.
The second obstacle to McFadden is the way Felix Jones has impressed in Carton House. With Geordan Murphy heading to play for Leicester next week, it’s hard to see him making the cut when the squad is reduced on 22 August. Instead Jones will make his debut off the bench for Rob Kearney against the Scots on Saturday, and it’s a terrific opportunity for him.
So if D’Arcy’s rapid rehab continues, and Jones works his way further into the affections of Declan Kidney as a young full back with a very good counter attacking game, then McFadden is marginalised more.
In fact that would leave him in a straight shoot out with Luke Fitzgerald. Even when McFadden’s form was miles ahead of Fitzgerald with Leinster this season Joe Schmidt was running with the bigger name. And Kidney will do the same.
The way to avoid having to make this call is to install Keith Earls as the alternative to Kearney at 15, and bring both Fitzgerald and McFadden. Of course injuries over the course of this month may clear the water for Kidney as they have in the past, but at the minute that’s how it looks.
The other player to join Jones in the Brightest Bolters category is Mike McCarthy. Kidney brought him into the 32 man squad for the Six Nations last season to see how he got on, but his performance in camp this time round has moved him up through the most congested traffic lane: second row/number six.
If you accept that Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan and Leo Cullen are three of the four second rowers, then McCarthy has – on training ground form – moved past Mick O’Driscoll and Kevin McLaughlin. Which puts him alongside Donnacha Ryan, who starts beside Cullen in Edinburgh.
McCarthy is a decent size, has very good skills, and is athletic. He also has a fairly low boiling point. It’s probably best then that Nathan Hines is not wearing the darker shade of blue this weekend. If the Connacht man can stand out for the right reasons in what is a makeshift pack against Scotland then he will weave his way further through the traffic. How McFadden and Jones fare on the same journey will be worth getting worked up about – even in August.