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Lenihan backs Madigan to lead Leinster from ten in European back-to-back

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Ian Madigan, right, booted Leinster to victory

Ian Madigan, right, booted Leinster to victory

Ian Madigan, right, booted Leinster to victory

Former Ireland second row Donal Lenihan believes the time is right for Ian Madigan to move into the number ten jersey for Leinster.

While Leinster and Harlequins cultivate an image for fluent rugby, sometimes the beautiful game has to be sacrificed to a higher power.

Afterall, the two clubs are running neck-and-neck on eight points each well over and above winless Castres Olympique and Wasps in Pool Two.

This back-to-back, two-legged affair can make or break either club.

It is true. The margins are bound to be fine. This is where the playmakers come into the equation.

Will it be Nick Evans against Jimmy Gopperth or Ian Madigan? That is the leading question.

Lenhian is in no doubt: "I think Ian Madigan is hugely important to Leinster, particularly from a goal-kicking point of view.

"His kicking stats, I think, are well over the 90% mark and there's a huge reliance on him.

"I would play him at ten. He is one of those players who is now suffering from his versatility.

"With the constant stream of injuries Leinster have had all season, he's the go-to man to fill a hole."

Madigan has had to man-up at inside centre and full-back as a matter of necessity as Gopperth has struggled to find his form.

"I think it's unfair on him. I think he played superbly for Ireland against Georgia given he has had little or no game time at ten this season," Lenihan pointed out.

Centre Gordon D'Arcy and full-back Rob Kearney are both fit and firing.

In Lenhian's view, it is time for Madigan to play where he is most needed.

GAME MANAGEMENT

"The talk in Leinster is that there are issues surrounding Ian Madigan's game management," he said.

"I think that was the case in the last year or two when he was coming through. But, I didn't see it against Georgia. He has matured hugely.

"There was a period where he looked to take the first option in himself on too many occasions and, as a result of that, it put pressure on those outside him. I think he has learned from that," pushed Lenihan.

"I've always made the point, if you're playing at ten, it takes a long time to develop the confidence, to develop the experience to understand the whole game management that's required to steer a ship from out-half.

"That comes with playing week-in and week-out. It took Ronan O'Gara a long time - he was 25, 26 - before he was comfortable in doing that.

"But, he had the luxury of being selected by Munster week after week. Ian Madigan doesn't have that luxury."

The problem for Madigan is whether he can shake off a troublesome ankle injury that forced his removal against The Ospreys.

He is training with heavy strapping this week and this could be a factor in his goal-kicking.

Lenihan has also pointed to Jamie Heaslip as a "huge factor" in Leinster's plans to unseat Harlequins at The Stoop on Sunday.

CLEAN SWEEP

The Ireland number eight is coming fresh from a November clean sweep where he was a constant source of leadership behind Paul O'Connell.

Of course, Leinster are much more than a one-man army with Rhys Ruddock on the crest of a wave and Dominic Ryan beginning to make his way into international company.

Conor O'Shea will back his loose forwards to edge out Leinster with England captain Chris Robshaw leading the way.


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