O'Connor hails Madigan
Published 01/06/2014 | 07:52
Retiring duo Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen received winning send-offs to their illustrious careers as Leinster beat Glasgow Warriors 34-12 in a runaway RaboDirect PRO12 final victory.
It was a bittersweet occasion at the RDS for O'Driscoll who was forced off with a suspected calf injury just eight minutes into the contest.
But in the absence of the team's spiritual leader, victorious head coach Matt O'Connor was delighted with the performance of O'Driscoll's replacement Ian Madigan.
"He (Madigan) is a class footballer. He has played a hell of a lot of rugby at 12. He gave us an extra set of hands there, which created a lot of opportunities and asked questions of the Glasgow defence," O'Connor said after guiding the Irish province to their second successive league title.
"There has never been a doubt in how good a footballer Ian Madigan is from this side of the table. The last two performances of the season, he has come on early and changed the game for us. That says to me that he is in a pretty good frame of mind mentally.
"The challenges that he has had - he is running the game and being the focal point of the opposition - that takes time, and he will develop the more and more he does that.
"I thought he and Jimmy (Gopperth) tonight worked in tandem brilliantly, and it was a very pleasing result for Ian personally."
Glasgow were only 14-12 in arrears at the break after Finn Russell converted his fourth penalty of the evening in injury-time, however this experienced Leinster team gradually took control in the second half.
Gopperth finished with a 14-point haul, converting closing tries from Zane Kirchner and Gordon D'Arcy. He also added the extras to first half efforts from Kirchner and Shane Jennings and landed two penalties.
Heading into the province's fifth consecutive league decider, O'Connor was under no illusions about the challenge that they would face from Glasgow and acknowledged beforehand that the hosts would need to be at their best.
"Glasgow are a good side. We said all week that we needed our season's best performance," O'Connor said.
"Anything else was going to be not good enough against Glasgow because they're a class side. Thankfully we got it."
For Warriors supremo Gregor Townsend, this emphatic defeat was a hard one to take at the end of a memorable PRO12 season which saw them embark on a record-breaking nine-match winning run before the final.
After improving on their semi-final finish last term, he is hopeful that they can learn from their mistakes again and kick on.
"Absolutely, there's a lot of lessons that we've taken from losing the semi-final (last year) and that's made us a stronger team. Now that we've got to a final, I think we have to handle the occasion better," said Townsend.
"It was a wonderful occasion. The noise the supporters made, the amount of Glasgow supporters that were there, was fantastic.
"Today, I think the game itself would have been great for the neutral, but there were times when we needed to have more control and more patience in our play.
"I think we rushed things at times. We knew we had to play our best game of the season to win. We didn't do that today."