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'Whatever happens, happens' - Ulster's Kiwi winger relaxed with future plans up in the air

Matt Faddes: ‘I’ve turned off social media and I’m not looking at what’s going on in New Zealand.’

Matt Faddes (file pic).
Matt Faddes (file pic).
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

WHEN IRFU HIGH Performance Director David Nucifora admitted that any contract negotiations for next season would roll into the new year due to the coronavirus pandemic, you would forgive both fans and those making the decisions to turn their thoughts to those in the green jersey first.

The likes of Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy and Iain Henderson are heading into the final months of their deals, and losing any of them would be a significant blow for the national side, so getting them tied down is priority No.1.

But beyond those six, there are a whole host of players who will be affected by the global situation. The four provinces will feel the squeeze too due to the financial implications of playing behind closed doors, and any players who don’t have something in place for the 2021/22 season will surely be looking ahead anxiously.

And while there are plenty of local players who are in that boat, spare a thought for the imports who have uprooted their lives at home to move to Ireland and try to make it in the northern hemisphere. Given the premium that is placed on them within the IRFU, now more than ever they will have to prove they are worth their wage.

One such player is Ulster winger Matt Faddes, whose two-year deal at Kingspan Stadium expires at the end of June and, with cuts more than likely required to balance the books, is no guarantee to be offered a renewal when negotiations do start in earnest.

The Otago native will be the first to admit he’s been in and out of the team more than he would have liked over the two years but, after a string of four starts in-a-row for the northern province, he’s taking a relaxed approach to the situation.

“We’ll see what happens. It’s a bit of an unknown time at the moment,” admits the 29-year-old former Highlanders man.

“Whatever happens, happens. All I can do is play the best rugby I can and hope that’s good enough to re-sign here or whatever. It’s such an unknown. Can’t say I’m losing any sleep over something in the future, that’s for sure.

“Probably the last 12 months you’ve been taught not to expect anything really. Control the controllables. It’s been such a weird year. You can’t just hope for things, you have to put your best foot forward. If that works, it works. If not, you’ve got to move on.”

Certainly this season Faddes has managed to carve out a more regular role for Ulster than he did in his debut campaign. Despite Ulster’s new-found policy of rotation, the winger started five of their eight unbeaten games to start the new Guinness Pro14 season and was included from the off in both Heineken Champions Cup games.

Indeed, should he start against Connacht in Ulster’s first game back in the Pro14 on Sunday as they aim to avoid three straight defeats for the first time under Dan McFarland, it would be five consecutive matches in the starting line-up for the former New Zealand Sevens star.

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rob-kearney-is-tackled-matt-faddes Tackling Rob Kearney. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

While tries have been lacking by a winger’s high standard — he only has one in seven appearances this season — his overall game has been remarkably solid and often he is an understated and reliable member of an impressive Ulster back line.

“As a player, having regular game time is everything, it grows confidence, you’re able to work out combinations,” claims Faddes. “For myself, it’s been great, I’ve been able to work on little things that I’ve wanted to get better at and I’ve seen some inroads into that. Definitely enjoying that.

“(Dwayne Peel) is the sort of bloke that gives guys a bit of confidence and he gives you that bit of a license to have a crack. A couple of times this year we’ve scored tries off the back of set-pieces – as a player it’s a dream and as a coach it’s probably the dream result as well.

“Things seem to be working well for us at the moment, and we’re using a lot of aerial kicks to our advantage as well. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”

The windy and wet Galway Sportsground will be a far cry from the weather he would be used to over Christmas in his native Balclutha back in New Zealand, but Faddes, having missed out on the trip west last season as it was one of the games cancelled by the pandemic, isn’t in the mood to complain.

“I’ve turned off social media for starters and I’m not looking at what’s going on in New Zealand because things seem to be going pretty well back there,” he says.

“It is tough enough times, but when we put things into perspective, we get to come to work every day and do a job we love, and we get to see our mates. While it is difficult and more niggly than other Christmas times, we do have it better than some other people, so we can’t complain.

“(The Sportsground) seems to be a hostile ground to go to. Obviously without crowds it takes that element away from it, so that’s a positive from our point of view. Connacht are a really physical side, so we’ve got to prepare for that and acknowledge what their strengths are and try and counteract their game.”

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