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The Wallabies' loss has been Leinster's immense gain as Fardy shines

The 34-year-old Australian has been a superb signing for the province.

THE OPPORTUNITY TO play in the Heineken Cup was one of the main rugby reasons Scott Fardy joined Leinster in 2017.

The Australian got exactly what he was hoping for in starting seven of the province’s European games on their run to title glory last season, including all three of their knock-out games.

Scott Fardy Fardy was a key figure as Leinster did the double last season. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

This campaign, however, Fardy had to wait until last Saturday for his first start of the season in the top-tier European competition, having made two appearances off the bench in rounds one and two.

With the non-European rule limiting Leinster to selecting two of Fardy, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park, Fardy missed out completely on the back-to-back clashes with Bath in December.

However, with Lowe suspended last weekend and Devin Toner injured, Fardy made his return and underlined once again just how good a signing he has been for Leinster.

Fardy has been superb in the Pro14 this season, often leading the way when Leinster’s front-line Ireland internationals are missing and it has struck us on more than one occasion that he is exactly the kind of player the Wallabies are missing.

Gritty, hard-working, fit, consistent, skillful, intelligent, experienced, influential and tough – Michael Cheika could certainly use a player of Fardy’s quality in this World Cup year.

Having won 39 caps for the Wallabies from 2013 to 2016, Fardy ruled himself out of the selection picture with his move to Europe and Australian rugby’s loss has been Leinster’s happy gain, whether he’s been deployed in the second row or at blindside flanker.

James Ryan with Scott Fardy and his son August after the game The Australian with his son, August, and James Ryan at the RDS. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

With Lowe back from suspension for this weekend’s visit to Wasps and Luke McGrath having suffered a knee injury – meaning Gibson-Park will be required – Fardy could be the one to miss out on selection again.

It would be a shame for the competition to be deprived of a player of his quality but either way, Leinster know they can depend on Fardy for a big performance if and when they need him.

His latest showing against Toulouse underlined many of his qualities, starting with the basics required of any second row.

Fardy won four lineouts for Leinster with a minimum of fuss, helping lineout caller James Ryan – who is still learning the craft – to ensure a 90% return on their own team’s throw.

Fardy also put some pressure on the Toulouse throw, very nearly earning a 23rd-minute steal in the air. 

His ball-carrying was strong throughout, with some important surges across his 19 carries, most notably in the build-up to Dave Kearney’s try from Ross Byrne’s diagonal kick.

Carry

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With the game still poised at 10-6 in Leinster’s favour, Leo Cullen’s team have been battering at the Toulouse defence for 10 phases with little return until Fardy injects momentum into the attack with this carry.

Recognising that Antoine Dupont has drifted a little too wide of Julien Marchand, Fardy accelerates into the sliver of space. 

Sean Cronin gets knocked back by Richie Arnold on the following phase, but Fardy is back on his feet and already working around the corner to offer himself up again.

Carry 2

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Fardy takes advantage of Dupont’s positioning again, carrying directly at the scrum-half as Clément Castets slips off the tackle on his inside shoulder.

With momentum back in Leinster’s favour again, Jack Conan makes one more carry and then Byrne cleverly takes advantage of the space behind Toulouse’s frontline defence to tee up Kearney for a superb finish.

Every lock needs to tackle and Fardy did well in defence too, completing 14 tackles and showing up prominently several times.

Strip

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Toulouse had some good opportunities to hurt Leinster with ball in hand early in the game, but Leinster’s defence was resilient in keeping them out. 

Fardy combines with second row partner Ryan in the example above, with Ryan chopping in low on François Cros as Fardy goes high to target the ball, stripping it clear for an important turnover.

Having played so much of his rugby at blindside flanker, Fardy is a well-established turnover threat too and showed his quality in this area several times against Toulouse.

Turnover

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Fardy hunts across from the inside in this instance, swooping in on the ball after Byrne tackles Sofiane Guitoune and Kearney misses with his strip attempt.

Having Fardy in the second row simply adds to Leinster’s turnover ability at the breakdown, although he’s unlucky in this instance as his turnover pops out the side of the ruck and through the legs of Kearney into touch.

Fardy, even though not winning clean turnovers or penalties, consistently slowed Toulouse’s possession and was particularly unlucky not to be rewarded when he jackaled in the 27th minute.

When he wasn’t targeting the ball himself, Fardy was helping others to do so, as we see below for a vital Leinster turnover.

TO Assist

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This James Tracy turnover comes at the end of a savage 16-phase set of Leinster defence on their own tryline, with Toulouse desperately searching for a lifeline in the game.

Having worked hard throughout the set, tackling and jackling and organising, Fardy is swiftly onto the scene with Tracy and assists the turnover, taking advantage of a monstrous tackle from Andrew Porter just before.

33

As we can see above, Fardy has clamped onto Tracy as the hooker jackals. Fardy is anchoring Tracy into position, providing him with stability as he stays on the ball to bring about the turnover penalty.

These kind of subtle actions are something Fardy excels in, his experience and nous constantly helping him to make the difference.

He is superb at latching onto ball-carriers too, providing additional power and stability into the tackle on pick-and-jams or close-in carries off the scrum-half. At maul time, he is a reliably solid contributor. 

Fardy is a quality operator at the attacking ruck too, bringing an aggressive edge to his clearouts and helping Leinster to enjoy the kind of quick ball they thrive on. 

And when they get that kind of ball, Fardy is more than comfortable at turning up his skill levels too. Again, his experience as a back row makes him very comfortable on the ball and in the wide channels.

With Australia having operated with a 1-3-3-1 system during his Test career, Fardy has often ranged the 15-metre channels at the highest level of the game and he’s no stranger to catching, passing, offloading and galloping himself.

Pass

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Fardy’s skill level is obvious in the example above, as Leinster look to immediately counter at Toulouse following a Yoann Huget knock-on.

Some second rows would not be comfortable acting as first receiver on a turnover attack – perhaps simply opting to carry the ball – but Fardy is alert to the opportunity and throws a double skip pass to allow Adam Byrne to surge up the right-hand touchline.

What follows is a riveting 38-phase set of Leinster possession that only ends when Marchand wins a turnover penalty, bringing to an end a passage of rugby that had a ball-in-play time of five minutes and 43 seconds – a huge figure in the sport.

Fardy, an extremely fit player, is always a presence in these kinds of passages, as he shows below on 31st phase.

Offload

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Leinster have lost a little momentum by the time they reach 31st phase but a strong clearout from Garry Ringrose leaves Guitoune and Huget overnumbered on the shortside and Fardy takes advantage. 

Again, his skill level is apparent as he fends Guitoine with his left hand while accelerating, then offloads one-handed to Rory O’Loughlin.

Huget does well to turn and work back to deny Byrne a scoring chance, with the ball bobbling to the ground as the Toulouse wing gets a hand in. 

A little unsurprisingly, it’s Fardy who falls on the ball and then offloads up off the deck to O’Loughlin to allow Leinster to continue attacking.

Post-offload

While Leinster come up empty-handed on this occasion, the passage highlights much of what Fardy brings to the party with his relentless work rate and skill level.

Though the EPCR’s rule around non-European players will continue to count against him, Fardy has been an immense signing for the province and played a major role in last season’s double.

As Fardy continues to age like a fine wine, under-pressure Wallabies boss Cheika must be pondering how he can get the 34-year-old back into his plans. 

- Originally published at 07.00

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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