McFadden on the up
This time last year, Leinster took on Connacht and we suggested in these pages that Fergus McFadden's stuttering career needed a fire up its behind, perhaps by dint of a stint out west.
Although 23 at the time, others in world rugby had achieved veteran status while McFadden was languishing, but when new coach Joe Schmidt arrived last summer, he wiped the slate clean and, just six months into his enigmatic reign, the Kiwi's trust in his squad is obvious for all to see. Hence, as 2010 segues into 2011, McFadden's career has benefited.
New Year's Day will most probably mark his eighth 80-minute bow of this campaign, already matching last year's total. His three tries already puts him one ahead of last season's tally.
Yet beyond the stats, you can feel the quality. Crucially, he has played in all Leinster's Heinken Cup games, completing the double-header against Clermont but doing more than just slotting in for high-profile absentees.
Now McFadden belongs. He believes he belongs. After waiting in the wings for so long, however, he will not allow complacency to become his foe. Still, talk of a World Cup appearance 12 months ago would have been scoffed at. Not now.
“I really enjoyed it in those two matches,” he says, referring to his esteemed graduation to the tried and trusted ranks of Leinster's established Heineken Cup stars.
“Joe had told me even before Brian O'Driscoll had got injured that he wanted me to mark Nalaga on the wing so he was going to try me there against the Scarlets.
“Things went okay for me in those two games, I thought. I did enjoy it.
“Ideally, centre is my position but, looking towards the World Cup next year, it could bode well for me. Hopefully I will be playing centre again like I was up in Ravenhill against Ulster but as long as I get a bit of ball.”