Friday 23 February 2018

Hickie and Wallace insist it's horses for courses in battle for Blues' No 10

Listen to our experts make their Round Two predictions on the Heineken Star Predictor

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

WHOEVER Matt O'Connor names at 10 when the Leinster team is announced at lunchtime today, Irish rugby legends Denis Hickie and Paul Wallace expect the battle between Ian Madigan and Jimmy Gopperth to run right through the season.

Gopperth got the nod to start last weekend's win over Ospreys after Madigan had started the Pro12 defeat to Munster at Thomond Park. The Kiwi out-half was impressive as Leinster got off to a winning start in Wales and could get the nod to start for the visit of Top 14 champions Castres to the RDS tomorrow.

"I think it will go over and back a few times," said Hickie. "Gopperth appears to be in the ascendancy but there's no reason why Madigan can't get in.

"It might depend on who they are playing against and what type of game they want to play. Those are the options a coach wants to have so I don't think it's as simple as one guy ahead of the other.


"Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt rotated people all the time. Coaches like to have those options to use."

Ruaidhri O’Connor chairs the debate with Denis Hickie, Paul Wallace and Tony Ward at the Irish Independent Heineken Cup Star Predictor discussion
Ruaidhri O’Connor chairs the debate with Denis Hickie, Paul Wallace and Tony Ward at the Irish Independent Heineken Cup Star Predictor discussion

And Wallace suspects that O'Connor might opt for Gopperth's experience away from home as Madigan's development continues.

"Matt O'Connor might see him as an older head, so away from home he is the right guy," he said. "Some of his tackling and defence was top-class last weekend. But for me, Ian Madigan is a special talent.

"I'd like to see him play at home where you are trying to up the tempo. I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that Gopperth will start. It's a case where they will mix and match."

Wallace also pointed to the number of front-row options emerging for Ireland that the first weekend's action revealed. Martin Moore made a promising impact for Leinster while Stephen Archer and David Kilcoyne showed signs of continued improvement.

"I was very impressed with Martin Moore," said the former Lions prop. "He was thrown in at the deep end and I was talking to the Leinster players and they said he's as strong as an ox. His tackling was brilliant but the whole Leinster front-row led the defence.

"Sean Cronin and (Devin) Toner have a nice combination in the line-out. Sean has had his troubles with his throwing, but he's putting his hand up for the Test side in November to challenge Rory Best.

"In Munster, Archer's scrummaging has improved, and Kilcoyne is pushing on so there are a lot of options. Declan Fitzpatrick is back in for Ulster, and he looked good before he picked up a few injuries.

"Tom Court has received bad press since he came on in Twickenham as a tighthead, but he's not a tighthead and should never have been covering that position, but as a loosehead he's a very good operator. There are some options."

Ulster got off to a winning start against Leicester Tigers, but Wallace believes how they cope away from Ravenhill will be the true test on their title credentials.

"You have to go and win against Montpellier in France. They might still get out of the group if they don't, but it will be hard. Leicester got a bonus point last week and that could be very important.

"They need Paddy Jackson to develop over the course of the season, he was pushed up to international rugby too early, but he is still a good quality player. But is he a player who can steer Ulster to a Heineken Cup? The jury is still very much out."

Connacht got their first away win in the competition against Zebre a year ago and they return to the scene of that victory tomorrow. And Hickie believes that Pat Lam's side can build on last week's strong showing against Saracens.

"They struggle to back up a good performance, especially on the road, but that they are playing Zebre will give them confidence," he said.

"They were the only team in the competition last week to win all their line-outs and scrums. If they can get through the phases and improve on that they can go one better than last week."

Irish Independent

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