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Mads is primed for no 10 shot


Ian Madigan, Leinster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Ian Madigan, Leinster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Ian Madigan, Leinster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

WHEN Jonathan Sexton was concussed by a tackle at Stade de France, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt turned to Ian Madigan to close out the Six Nations Championship.

The out-half had to deliver 12 minutes of control, or risk questions being raised over why Ulster's Paddy Jackson had been dropped for another Leinster man.

Where Sexton had missed two kicks in the first half, Madigan has become the man who never misses. Well, almost. His current place-kicking return for Leinster is an outstanding 87pc.

If there was a kick to be taken in those frantic final minutes, Madigan is probably the one man in Irish rugby you would want to tee it up.

The Dublin native's reputation as a gunslinger with a fast finger for the trigger has followed him further than necessary. He is not the same player he was two years ago.

How did Leinster coach Matt O'Connor rate Ireland's closer? "For me, it's never been an issue. Ian's management of the back end of the game is as good as there is," he said. "What we're probably working with him on is what he hasn't had as much experience at, which is the flip side of that – managing the front end of the game.

"That's a different beast because that determines the back end of the game, so Mads has done it a hell of a lot at Leinster with Johnny (Sexton) in relation to the back end of the game.

"He was faultless. He didn't have any issues. He was a guiding light for the last 10 or so minutes," said O'Connor.


Now that the Six Nations is out of the way, Madigan returns to his duel with Jimmy Gopperth to win O'Connor's vote to start against Munster in the PRO12 League tomorrow week and against Toulon in the Heineken Cup quarter-final.

Where Gopperth is the all-round, mature playmaker, Madigan is making up ground as a quick learner and he gets first shot at the 10 jersey tonight against Zebre.

"It's just understanding the importance of those decisions early in the game because they are the things that set you up for winning," added O'Connor.

"That is acutely important for those blokes in those responsibility positions, you know 10, 12, 9, 15. The blokes who make the key decisions for you have to get them right in the first 25 minutes of the game or you're under significant pressure."

The back three is looking crammed already with Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney contesting three positions.

Presuming Rob Kearney will slot straight back in at full-back, it gets even tighter, trying to squeeze four into two.

The reality is that three of them, McFadden, Fitzgerald and Kirchner, could ultimately transfer into the centre for Brian O'Driscoll. McFadden will have first crack tonight.

"Ferg has played there a lot as a kid, he's played a lot there for Leinster and, with the bodies that we've got in the group at the moment, that was the thinking. He's incredibly physical," said O'Connor.

What about long-term? "We know that we need, whether that's developed in-house or we go elsewhere, a word-class bloke in that slot.

"Currently, we're pretty comfortable with the bodies that we've got. When that changes we'll have a look around."