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Ian Madigan swings into World Cup frame

IN Joe Schmidt's world, the scream of the individual is almost always drowned out by the incessant whispering of the selfless team player.

For him, there is little virtue in the self-centred regard of a man who deems the mere act of pressing a button to call a lift with the satisfaction of one who thinks he has performed a great deed.

"He's really big on the unseen work," confides Ian Madigan. "The guy who decides to hit the ruck and get a deep clean, not the guy who gets the ball off the nine and runs around the corner and scores the try."

And so, for all the wondrous acts of late derring-do - eventually they arrived in an at-times somnolent setting by the Dodder - Schmidt would have examined the multitudes of threads that knitted this display together, rather than the elaborate bouquets that rained down on the hapless, outnumbered Georgians at game's end.

Schmidt, perhaps, was alone in praising the endeavour of the opening half when most neutrals may have preferred to seek the sanctuary of the bar; yet only he knows that the incessant pounding of the Georgian spirit then would ultimately cause it to sunder completely later.


This game was effectively broken when its quality - in neutral eyes - plunged to a nadir; instead of slinking off at 6-0, Ireland played on, snatched a lineout and forced a play that reduced their opponents to 14 men and stole a 9-0 lead on the whistle of half-time.

For this was a day when selfless service had to master selfish motivation; Ireland's out-half in a much-changed team but an utterly unchanged environment of insistent devotion to minute detail bore the responsibility well.

Madigan, for whom the number ten has been an all too rare habitat in a difficult period at Leinster following the departure of Ireland's number one, Jonathan Sexton, marshalled the game, for the most part, superbly.

"One of my big roles as an out-half, whether with Leinster or Ireland, is to facilitate other players and try to make other players look good," he explains. "And I tried to do that as well as I can today."

Amidst the collective failures early on, when anxiety militated against the simple compilation of phases and protection of possession, Madigan at times faltered too but ultimately his consistency shone like a beacon.

While the back-row and three-quarters often failed them, Ireland were prompted, a couple of overly long punts aside, with consistent alertness by Madigan; his grubber for the opening score was not headline-grabbing; it was, rather, the essence of the day's unfolding story.

"It was certainly important for us coming out against Georgia because we knew that they were going to be really enthusiastic and come off the line hard," reviewed Madigan, for whom it was entirely significant that he was the only back to finish the game where he started.

"It was definitely part of our game plan to put the ball in behind them a bit. I thought Eoin Reddan put up a few nice box-kicks early on. "I went for a grubber to try to put their set-piece under pressure. That part of the game plan did work well for us."

So too his constant quest for the counter, aided by poor opposition kicks, and he made as many yards as any of his back-line colleagues, most of them in the unforgiving, stolid first act.

Schmidt's private thoughts on Madigan's obstruction at Leinster will, presumably, remain thus.

The conundrum remains that Ireland have two qualified out-halves who are first-choice for their province but both - Paddy Jackson and Ian Keatley - have been evicted by a man who is, more often than not, second-choice out-half at his province.

Yesterday, at least, provided comprehensive evidence that the Blackrock man can fulfil his duty as Sexton's confirmed deputy, a position he suddenly assumed when Jackson was demoted ahead of the championship decider in Paris last spring.

"At least I've coached him and had a relationship with him for four years and that coach-player relationship means that he knows what we expect as a coaching group and he is very driven to try and be as accurate as he can be.

"We know his running game and what he can do there and I think his game management was pretty good today. We did want to stay structured for as long as we could.

"He managed the game really well today and defensively he's very good under the ball. If he gets the training time there he's pretty comfortable."

Madigan appreciates the conundrum too, you guess; he wasn't shunted around the back-line as the game disintegrated to a pleasurable exercise in slapdash by the final quarter, instead remaining at ten for the entire piece.

At this stage, he is a World Cup certainty; both as the primary out-half back-up and a valuable utility three-quarter. A first-choice second-choice, you could say. Not something that should please a selfish player, one assumes. But in a selfless environment, it must.

"Look, you don't just arrive in on the Monday at Carton House and write your name into the team-sheet," he smiles self-deprecatingly. "If you could I'd be in early and put my name in at No 10. I'm just looking to work closely with Matt O'Connor and Joe to manage the areas of the game that are close to our line, getting the exits right. I feel if I keep doing that and keep working hard as a player that he selections will follow from that."

He is asked, possibly unreasonably, if a start against Australia is feasible - highly unlikely with Sexton on the beat - and again defers.

"You always hope that you'll be selected and for me it's about getting by body right, training as well as I can on Monday or Tuesday to put up my hand for contention.

"It's great to get 80 minutes in my favourite position. Like I've said before, I'm a rugby player, I'm employed to play the game and I'll play in whatever position I'm selected.

"Unfortunately, we had a few injuries at Leinster and I've had to play a few games in midfield and full-back but I really enjoyed playing at out-half today and I want to build on that performance."

On a day when many struggled to reach the insistent standards demanded by the coach, Madigan's quiet effectiveness rose from a whisper to a scream.

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