THE 11th OF October, 2015.
The date on which Ireland will face France for potential top-of-the-table honours in Pool C of the Rugby World Cup.
There is much water to run under the bridge between now and then, but head coach Joe Schmidt wants Fergus McFadden and his teammates to be proven in their ability to close out tight games by that stage.
For that reason, the Kiwi head coach spent a portion of this week’s brief Ireland training camp in Dublin reviewing his side’s most recent fixture in the Six Nations.
“He went over a couple of things from the video of the France game,” explains McFadden. “Obviously we won the game and the championship, which was a great outcome, but the good thing about Joe is that he doesn’t rest on his laurels.
He went back to the game, to the last three minutes, and he went over stuff that we probably got away with it, where the game could have slipped through our grasp. We let a lot of things slide in those last few minutes, between a bit of game management and some rush-of-blood-to-the-head stuff.
“Those narrow margins are huge going forward. Going to the World Cup, Joe is trying to get a backbone of a team that can close out those kinds of tight games. That’s going to be really important for us.”
McFadden is part of the squad travelling to Argentina for two Test games next month, excited to be working under Schmidt again. The New Zealander has been perhaps the most important influence on the Leinster man’s career so far.
While improving with age is something of a natural process, Schmidt has been responsible for highlighting the need for progress in many of the technical skills within McFadden’s arsenal, both with Leinster and Ireland.
“I think since I’ve primarily been on the wing under Joe, high ball receipt and passing were two areas that I’ve tried to focus on and felt I’ve improved on. I know Joe puts a big emphasis on his backs being good at the ruck, being effective there, whether it’s in defence or attack.
So I think that’s an area I’m strong in and it’s one that he values. Personally, I’d say the last couple of years has been about trying to dominate in the air and get my passing better.”
Schmidt has been largely responsible for McFadden’s switch from centre to the wing in recent years. The former Clongowes student recognises that the shift in position has been conducive to being a more rounded wing in the long-term.
“I think in defence, on your reads and working with your 13, you’ve a small bit more of an understanding. I’ve found that the biggest bonus of playing a lot of my rugby at centre and now playing on the wing, was probably my carrying and the wide rucks.
“You’re involved in a lot more of them in the centre, so it was a strength that I brought onto the wing, then I had to work on the high ball receipt and other things like that. They were probably the bonuses moving out.”
Speaking of McFadden’s skillset, place-kicking is an ability that the Old Belvedere player is not letting fall off his radar quite yet. The 2011/12 season saw the 27-year-old excel off the tee for Leinster, but he has kicked just two penalties and two conversions since.
McFadden still practices twice a week and includes place-kicking in his pre-match warm-ups. He regularly beats Ian Madigan in their Wednesday afternoon competitions at the RDS, and says he would have no issue with taking over responsibilities for province or country.
“I know a day will come where I’ll have to step up and take a kick in a big game to win it. It’s just about putting the work in and knowing that’s just around the corner. It is a great string to have in my bow in the Ireland set-up as well.
Joe knows he can have the confidence in me to step up and take a couple. Listen, I think Jonny [Sexton] is out on his own in the place-kicking. Ian and Jimmy [Gopperth] have been very good [for Leinster] in that area as well.
“You need to have back-up place-kickers in squads. I put myself in that bracket and if I’m called upon to kick one day, I certainly wouldn’t shy away from it. I enjoy the pressure that it brings as well.
“I wouldn’t say no if I was put in that position, but I’m not putting myself forward to try and knock Jonny or Ian or Jimmy.”
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