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Leinster will lean on Fardy's experience in European glory bid

 

By David Kelly

When Leinster announced the signing of Scott Fardy just over a year ago, they were at pains to state the case for his recruitment.

"We have signed Scott as a second row," said Leo Cullen, presumably allowing some relief to seep through to their then-bulging back row resources, all of whom were already, or would soon become, Ireland internationals.

Ryan, Heaslip, Ruddock, O'Brien, Murphy, Conan, Leavy, Van der Flier.

It made sense, too.

Hayden Triggs and Mike McCarthy were heading for retirement, Quinn Roux and Mark Flanagan had gone, Ross Molony, Mick Kearney and Ian Nagle were struggling to gain traction. Other recruits, such as Kane Douglas, had failed to make any impact.

Leinster's demise in a European semi-final in Clermont would highlight the deep concerns of a lineout, in particular, unfit for purpose.

And so, like, perhaps, other Antipodeans such as Brad Thorn, Nathan Hines and, most spectacularly, Rocky Elsom before, this one could prove to be the missing piece in the jigsaw.

All three, not uncoincidentally, lifted a European title while passing through.

Before last season's kick-off, IRFU head honcho David Nucifora had outlined how he was willing to help Leinster and Cullen in any way he possibly could.

And yet it could transpire that Fardy completes the season playing in a back row role that the IRFU had a little more than tentatively suggested he should not.

Events, dear boy, events.

Leinster's back row options have been culled in the mean-time and, all the while, the shooting star that is James Ryan has propelled himself into a winning machine in the 'row'.

As Cullen also said last March, "things change." And how.

Fardy started the quarter-final against Saracens as a six, where he has played the majority of his international rugby.

The truth is that three-time European-winning captain Cullen, whose early reign was blighted by the inability to locate the type of second row enforcer that Leinster were missing since he himself retired, has been blindsided by Ryan's extraordinary impact. Fardy, too, has been literally blindsided.

October's Montpellier meeting provided the wider world with the first evidence that Leinster had discovered the solution to the second row jigsaw puzzle was right under their nose.

Fardy was a late withdrawal for that day's RDS game; Ryan stepped in and delivered a stunning display. A Grand Slam later, he still hasn't lost a game since.

"I didn't have any expectations," says the 34-year-old, who reached a World Cup final with Australia during a late-blooming, 39-cap three-year career.

"I knew it was a very talented club, then when I got here I learned more about the individuals and how good they are.

"I'm not feeling that pressure. I just focus on myself. The guys coming through have been really good.

"The careers of Dan Leavy and James Ryan have exploded and it's great to see them play so many big games this early in their career."

Leinster vs Scarlets

European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final

Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 3.30pm

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