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Monday 11 December 2017

Door opens for McFadden

Earls' sad situation puts Blues ace in spotlight for grudge Welsh clash but Kiss insists he's not coming in from cold

One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. So they say. Certainly, Leinster's Fergus McFadden cannot afford to dwell on what is a difficult time for Keith Earls.

"There are moments in your life when you realise that maybe there is something slightly more important than rugby," sympathised Ireland hooker Rory Best, on news of Earls' baby daughter being taken to hospital.

For all that, the Ulsterman knows there is a serious job to be done tomorrow against the nation that crushed Ireland's dream in the World Cup quarter-final in New Zealand.

How the Irish players must be sick and tired of the endless stream of questions that have to be asked. Revenge is a factor. Nothing more than that. The personal pressure to perform is enough in the Six Nations.

"The pressure is on us to try to go five games playing well as opposed to four at the World Cup. If we play as close to 100pc as we can, we know there are not that many teams who can live with us.

"The flip side of that is we've shown in the past if we don't get it right, there are a lot of teams that can beat us," warned Best.

McFadden, 25, will make his first start for Ireland at outside centre for his seventh international cap beside another Clongowes Wood graduate in Gordon D'Arcy.

While Earls was on paternity leave earlier this week, McFadden assumed the role at outside centre. He is not being thrown in cold. He knows what is required of him.

"Fergus has been working with us all week. He is also one of the form players in Ireland throughout the provincial teams. He has slotted in nicely there," said Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss.

McFadden's versatility to play wing and centre comfortably has been seen as his downfall at times. This could be a bonus for Ireland, giving scope for him and D'Arcy to alternate between 12 and 13.

"Ferg will bring his own strengths to the game in that position," added Kiss. "He is looking forward to the challenge.

"He will be up for it. It does broaden our options perhaps.

"It could be looked at that way. First and foremost, Fergus is part of the tactics and strategies we have been working on for the game."

However, it would be remiss to ignore what is a powerful three-quarter line from 11 to 15.

Wales centre Jonathan Davies is the lightest of the quartet at 16 stones three pounds.

The promotion of McFadden left an opening for Dave Kearney to come onto the bench. He is bang in form and on the verge of making his international debut.

"Just from the Wolfhounds game in itself, he had a brilliant game. He does his bread and butter things very well. His work off the ball is exceptional," said Kiss.

"He's got his brother's (full-back Rob) skills. He runs well.

"He keeps his balance very nicely. If there is one snapshot of how Dave is doing, it is the cover of that kick in the Wolfhounds game (against England) and how he swooped. It takes football knowledge to be able to cover that from the far wing."



Fitness

Wales out-half Rhys Priestland and centre Jamie Roberts have proved their fitness for the game.

However, flanker Dan Lydiate hasn't. Wales are missing half of the pack and retired wing Shane Williams from the side that beat Ireland in the World Cup quarter-final.

"I don't think we expected anything less to tell you the truth. They threw out a lot of noise during the week about injuries, etc," added Kiss.

"We prepared expecting the best they could throw out there. That's what they've come up with.

"We've got a lot of respect for them. It is the first match of the Six Nations and there's a lot on the line."

He can say that again.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), S Ferris, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; R Priestland, M Phillips; R Gill, H Bennett, A Jones, B Davies, I Evans, R Jones, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau.

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