Sunday 18 February 2018

Coach's quotes can be of little comfort to unsettled Ian Madigan

Jonathan Sexton reacts as Toulon were awarded a penalty
Jonathan Sexton reacts as Toulon were awarded a penalty
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ian Madigan must have been the warmest man in France by the time he left Stade Felix Mayol last night.

Having been the first Leinster player out for the pre-match warm-up, he spent almost the entire second-half stretching beneath the posts, played for three minutes, and then had a rigorous fitness session as the stadium emptied after Toulon's lap of honour.

After all the other replacements had made their way into the fray, the 26-year-old cut a lonely figure in the in-goal area. It was a lot of time to get some thinking done.

On the pitch, Johnny Sexton was having as poor a game as he's had in blue, but still Leo Cullen's call didn't come. As Toulon added to their lead and put the squeeze on, the potential game-changer remained in his tracksuit top.

Madigan's contract is up at the end of this season and he has lots of options. It's probably safe to assume that staying at Leinster was crossed off his list after the plane returned to Dublin last night.

If he doesn't get a run when Sexton's having an off-day, what's the point in staying?

Cullen's explanation will do little to appease his out-half, who must have felt he could have improved things.

"Unfortunately, just the way the changes were made; Rob (Kearney) was only just back so he came off quite early.

"Isaac (Boss) as well had a bit of a niggle going into the game.

"Unfortunately that left us with Mads as our last back so you are always running the risk, it's quite a fine line when you bring that last person on. Ideally I would have liked to have got Mads on earlier but just the way those other substitutions unfolded, that is just the way it went."

The immediate future for Madigan and Leinster throws up a return fixture against yesterday's victors who will themselves be looking for improvements when they return to the Aviva Stadium, where they won their first European title.

Out of the tournament, Leinster have little tangible reward to play for but owe it to their coaches and the 42,000 people who have already bought tickets.

"Look, we owe everyone from the way we have been playing," captain Isa Nacewa said.

"Individually everyone just has to go away and look at their own game and then collectively as a group we have to look at ourselves.

"That's the most important thing at the moment.

"It is a test of our character. There is no problem is getting up for the challenge this week. It is about recovering well for the next 48 hours and then looking forward to playing in the Aviva in front of the fans that mean the most to us. As a team, we just have to get up and get on with it."

Like Anthony Foley in Munster, this defeat puts pressure on Cullen's shoulders. After presiding over a record home European defeat against Wasps last month, this was the first time the province lost their first three games, and with last season's semi-final taken into account, this now their longest losing stretch in their 20-year history in the competition.

"People will always make judgements, that's part and parcel of the business," the former second-row said.

"I'm just focused on preparing the team, so I can't get overly bogged down in what people's perception is of me.

"I just need to focus on my role, which is trying to prepare the team."

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