Darragh Fanning making the most of his late opportunity

Leinster’s in-form winger relishing life at the top with the province

When Leinster hosted Munster at the beginning of October to kickstart a meaty part of their season, Darragh Fanning had scored one try in his 19 appearances for the province. But a try that night has signalled a change in fortune, and last week's brace in Treviso made it five tries in his last six games.

“I know people were saying early on in the year that maybe I wasn’t scoring enough tries. But it wasn’t a case that I was getting put in situations to score tries and was messing them up,” he points out. “They weren’t coming to me but I stayed patient that they would come and that when they did I would take them.”

“ I’m playing with a lot of confidence at the moment. Matt (O’Connor) has instilled that in me by consistently picking me. He put me into big games a few weeks ago and I want to keep on repaying him by playing as well as I can each week.”

As the son of a former Leinster number eight, Declan, at 15st 1lb (96kg) and 6ft 2in (1.88m), Fanning jnr is the prototype of the modern day winger. Solid under the high ball and strong in contact, O’Connor admires his work ethic and dependability, and Fanning is benefitting from a run of games.

Fanning has completed 80 minutes in ten of Leinster’s dozen matches, although he played down his recent scoring run, especially last Sunday’s brace.

“The tries were from a combined total of about two yards. Listen, I’d prefer to score no tries and for us to win the game.”

Routine finish

It’s true that his first was a relatively routine finish to complete a 9-15-14 blindside move off a rock solid scrum, while the second was a pick and plunge from a ruck after

Isaac Boss

had been inches short.

Even so, they were the finishes of a player both becoming more comfortable in his surroundings and looking for the ball more.

“You definitely become comfortable in the patterns and the plays and stuff like that. I know everyone knows them, but when you’re running them every week in a front-line team they’re easy.”

“Last year earlier on in the season it was great, I got in and played a lot of games. But then suddenly I was a bag-holder for the next month and it opens your eyes a bit. It’s a reality check and you’ve just got to be a bit more switched on when you’re in that situation that any minute someone could get injured and you could get back in the team and you need to be ready. But when you’re in the team it’s just second nature.

“You get more used to playing alongside different guys like Zane and Jimmy and Mads and knowing what lines to run off them. They’re obviously showing a lot more confidence in me as well because they’re using me a bit more as well.”

With the high-flying Ospreys in the RDS on Saturday, Fanning forecasts: “It’s going to be as physical and quick as any European game I’ve ever played. It’s going to be huge for us. We might get a few of the lads back from the Irish camp which would be good, but whoever is selected everyone is gunning for this game at the weekend.”

The case history of the 28-year-old winger, after being let go by Connacht and playing club rugby with St Mary's either side of a two-year stint in Australia, where he played semi-professional rugby with club side Tuggeranong Vikings, can provide hope for late developing All-Ireland League players everywhere.

Come home

“I thought it was gone for me two years ago. No, never thought I’d play a Pro 12 game even, let alone play a couple of European Championship games. I’m here now and it’s great. I’ve loved the last 18 months and hopefully I can just keep pushing on,” he says.

"One of my coaches from Australia, Dan McKellar, who's actually an assistant coach with the Brumbies now, rang me a few weeks ago and started slagging me. Because when I left there I remember really well I was leaving Australia to come home to start work which I did. And he was talking about contacting Calvisano or he could get me references off Laurie Fisher or Jake White. "

“He quoted me on this – he said I said I’d have more chance of winning the Euromillions next week than picking up a contract at home. So that’s how I thought about it coming home. It just shows that getting a few AIL games and getting lucky, it shows there are still opportunities in the AIL. A lot of lads if you pass the Leinster 20s and you’re not being selected, they think ‘then that’s it’. But I’ve proved them wrong.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times