Tuesday 26 September 2017

Saints will fight to restore hurt pride, warns Madigan

Leinster players Brian O'Driscoll, Kevin McLaughlin, Zane Kirchner and John Cooney during squad training ahead of their Heineken Cup match against Northampton on Saturday
Leinster players Brian O'Driscoll, Kevin McLaughlin, Zane Kirchner and John Cooney during squad training ahead of their Heineken Cup match against Northampton on Saturday
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster made a late decision to switch yesterday's training session from their normal grass surface to UCD's Astroturf facility.

One wouldn't have been surprised to see them trying out some of their moves on the nearby lake, such was the transcendent nature of some of their play in dazzling Northampton Saints.

They're not walking on water -- yet. Nevertheless, last Saturday represented one of the most significant declarations of intent from this season's leading contenders for European honours.

Leinster may have made a big splash but the evidence of Northampton's back-to-back efforts last season against Ulster demonstrates that they can still sink the Irish side's buoyant optimism in an instant.

"Yeah it was a big statement," agreed out-half Ian Madigan. "To go away in the Heineken Cup and pick up five points is definitely going to send out a message to Europe.

"At the same time, I thought things went our way in the game, even the bounce of the ball to get the first try. That was kind of the theme for the whole game.

"On the back of that our defence was good and Northampton had to chase the game from an early stage. It led to more opportunities for ourselves but we are under no illusions that Northampton are a really good side.

"They're a side that can easily bounce back. They did it last year when Ulster beat them over at Franklin's Gardens and they came back and won the return fixture. They're a very proud club, a lot of proud supporters so we're expecting a big backlash this week."

Madigan, chosen for the first time to pivot a Heineken Cup pool clash by coach Matt O'Connor, may also feel that he too proffered a substantial statement of personal ambition.

"It would have been easy to let myself get frustrated, but I've just dealt with things week on week and I didn't look at the first Heineken Cup game of the season and say, 'here's my big chance and now it's gone,'" he said.

FOCUSING

"Likewise, when Jimmy (Gopperth) got the second start against Castres, I was more focusing on what I could improve on myself, and just working closely with Matt to learn the new game plan and the style of play that he wanted.

"Now I've got a few games under my belt, I seem to be going well enough."

That much, allied to Leinster's irresistible form, is clear enough. As is the semblance that perhaps it was more comforting for the coach to deploy Gopperth for those opening games, particularly given Madigan's erratic Leinster attendance due to burgeoning international commitments.

"It would have been in my thought process when dealing with the disappointment of not been selected," he agreed.

"I would have been thinking what can I do to improve and what was Matt's thought process. When we came up to the first Heineken Cup game, I had played at out-half twice and I think Jimmy has played it five or six times.

"The Munster game didn't go great for me personally. It came down to a tight enough selection, Matt went with Jimmy and it worked out really well.

"You've just got to move on from it. It's a long season, there's 30-plus games and you've just got to keep improving yourself and try and keep putting your hand up for selection each week.

"As for the competition between us, the coach would never be looking past the upcoming game. So he wouldn't have the Edinburgh game picked for next week for example, he's just focused on this week.

"It's very much been on a week-to-week basis, but myself and Jimmy are just really working together, that's the main thing."

Assistant coach Richie Murphy concurs.

"Their relationship is really good," he said. "They are two gas guys. They get on very, very well together and bounce off each other very well. The competition for places all over the Leinster team is massive. That is no different at 10.

"Both guys know when they get an opportunity they have to take it because if they don't the other guy will get in and he'll do that."

And with that, we are ushered away from the synthetic surface, with a reminder that there is nothing artificial about Leinster's vaulting ambitions in the Heineken Cup.

"The guys need to go through some of their plays," explained the press officer.

Ominously, it seems, there is even more to come from this Leinster side.

Irish Independent

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