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Fergus McFadden ready for 'impossible' Brian O'Driscoll role


Gearing up: Fergus McFadden is ready to rock for Ireland

Gearing up: Fergus McFadden is ready to rock for Ireland

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Gearing up: Fergus McFadden is ready to rock for Ireland

Fergus McFadden won't let the shadow of Brian O'Driscoll affect his audition for the No 13 shirt against Argentina tomorrow.

And so the auditions continue. Up next: McFadden (27), known for versatility, being fleet of foot and his stellar defensive work; mostly used as a winger.

Throughout this tour, the mantra from the Irish camp is that O'Driscoll is irreplaceable, but the No 13 shirt needs filling.

Ulster's Darren Cave got a go and did well last week, but steps inside one to allow the Kildare native a shot tomorrow in Tucuman.

It is nothing new to the Leinster player, who faced Wales at outside centre in the 2012 Six Nations, albeit in a game best remembered for George North muscling the off-balance McFadden aside en route to a cracking try.

He has since covered the position off the bench and knows the role well. Matt O'Connor has given him time there this season and he has thrived in the role.

He sees it differently to his predecessor, however. O'Driscoll once famously described the job of a No 13 as the team's centre forward, but McFadden, who played there throughout his days at Clongowes and UCD before moving to the wing at senior level, views it as more akin to a midfield general.

"It's an interesting analogy about the centre forward – I think it's the fulcrum of the defence," he mused.

"Obviously, you want your scrum to go well, you want your line-out to put pressure on defensively, but if you make bad reads ... like, if you miss a tackle in the front five, it gets wiped up by other people. If you miss a tackle at No 13, everyone knows about it.

"You're the person who gets pointed at the next day, there's a lot of pressure there. In that sense, it's the most important position on the pitch.

"From an attacking perspective, you're basically the link from No 10 and the outside players. You're the link who can bring some organisation into it.

"I think that the likes of Brian and Conrad Smith have mastered that art of linking and spotting that space. It's a big part of the attacking game to bring those outside players in.

"I'd say more of a Stevie G (Gerrard) than a striker. Brian scored plenty of tries, so maybe that's what he thought."

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Following O'Driscoll is not something that appears to faze McFadden who has shared a dressing-room with the legendary centre for his entire professional career.

Others might seek out the former captain for some advice, but instead the 27-year-old "might text him for the craic – take the mickey out of him."

If there is pressure whipped up by those of us behind keyboards, McFadden is not feeling it.

"There's always going to be hype in the media, saying 'who will be the person to grasp the jersey' or 'who'll fill Brian's boots'," he said.

"You guys know as well as I do that no-one's going to fill Brian's boots – they're unfillable.

"There's an opportunity there at No 13 in an Ireland jersey and there are plenty of people who are looking to take it.

"But when you look at the injuries before the Six Nations, when guys got opportunities under Joe (Schmidt), one thing he does is, if someone gets their hands on a jersey and do a job, he doesn't tend to pass it to someone else."

Schmidt spoke about McFadden's versatility and the coach is clearly a fan of a player who covers every jersey from 11-14.

"Never in an international do you start with 15 and not make any changes and just to have that flexibility to put him at 13, 11, 14 and even 12.

"With Fergus it's an advantage that we see going forward, having players that can play multiple positions," he said.

Ireland are out to build on last Saturday's 29-17 victory over Argentina.

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