Fergus McFadden expecting Leinster to bounce back

Defeat to Connacht raises stakes for Leo Cullen’s side as Munster visit the Aviva

At half-time in Galway, Leinster supporters were not so much smug as expecting more. Connacht's apparently shaky seven-point lead, as they faced into the swirling rain and wind, looked quite within reach.

Pat Lam’s taunts about Leinster being the best defensive team in the league and Connacht the best attacking side was designed to be a double-edged sword, a compliment with an implicit criticism that Leinster backs had lost their cutting edge.

No team with aspirations to entertain or with Leinster’s attacking pedigree set out to win trophies by being the best at stopping others from playing.

By the end of the game , Leinster's six points in the second half was not a good return. Now, with creeping doubt, they face Munster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.Fergus McFadden sees no point in calling it otherwise.


“Massive disappointment,” he says. “We’re definitely hurting as a group. Losing any interpro, at any stage of the season, is tough and, in the circumstances, it was even harder. It puts the pressure back on us in the fight towards the end of the season to stay in the top four.”

Soaring positivity

Leinster players can talk around it as they please. But while defeat may inject a degree of urgency and a response, nothing beats coming into a match against Munster than a win the previous week. McFadden understands that.

Given the choice between a defeat spurring players on, against the injection of soaring positivity that comes from winning, he doesn’t hesitate.

“I’d say definitely confidence from a win,” he says. “Obviously, we’d love to be in that position from last week, but unfortunately we’re not. Munster will have their tails up. We’ll be wary of that.”

McFadden also declines a ready-made offer to use Leinster’s constant moving around of players as an excuse. Team-building can be a complex business and sometimes it takes time to adjust from playing at the faster tempo of Test rugby to that back at club level.

“No, and that’s not really an excuse, and it wouldn’t be one that we’d be looking for,” he says of the changing Leinster personnel.

“You’ve got guys back in who have been using different attacking and defensive systems under Joe Schmidt for eight weeks with Ireland.

“They’ve got three to four days’ preparation before an interpro derby. Hopefully, there will be more consistency across the park from us this week. The two weeks back together will, hopefully, stand to us.

“They [Munster] have probably got more of a balance than playing the wide-wide game that they played under Penney.

“They’ve got the balance of playing that at times and also of rolling up their sleeves, keeping it tight and trying to bash you with their pack.”

Player dynamics

There are player dynamics that cannot be overlooked.

Johnny Sexton

has had his few weeks off to refresh a bruised body. One man will not win the match alone but if he can act as a catalyst, it’s a powerful weapon. Sexton’s drive and his determined focus to force his own shape on games gives him quite an outsized influence on the Leinster effort.

“He just drove Ireland around the pitch,” says McFadden. “He gave the guys a nice bit of direction . . . sometimes that’s all a team needs.

“If you’ve got the likes of Johnny guiding you, it makes it a lot easier. I was delighted to see him come back to form after getting a bit of flak at the start of the season. Hopefully he can bring that Irish form when he’s wearing a Leinster jersey now.”

He may need to. With 44 tries Munster have scored more than Leinster's 38 to date. Victory would also keep Munster ahead of Ulster and Glasgow; both those teams are only a point behind.

“There was a lot we can improve on,” says McFadden.

And you’ve got to think they will need to improve to prevail.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times