Tuesday 16 January 2018

Consistency the key for Madigan

Ian Madigan needs to cement his place in the Leinster team. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Ian Madigan needs to cement his place in the Leinster team. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

Leinster arrive at another final tomorrow week – but only just. For a game that promised so much, it fell short of the high standards recently set by both teams.

Mark Anscombe will surely have to scratch his head and wonder how his Ulster team didn't finish Leinster off. Leinster's win was as much a gift from the northern province as it was a steal for Leinster.

Leinster had their outstanding bench to thank as they live to fight another day but it's another premature end to a season for Ulster.

When a team like Leinster goes through a period of success they create an aura. That breeds a confidence in each other, no matter where they are playing or whom they are up against.

Munster had it for years. This aura gives the players a belief that they can win and more importantly it is their opposition who ultimately feel it the most.

Munster in the European Cup still have it – it's been the bedrock of the red jersey they wear. Leinster took years to gain this ability and it was to the fore last Saturday night.

They had no right to win a game which they were completely outplayed in and however easy it is to say they won ugly, it shows the character of the team.

If this ability is lost, it will take a long time to come back. Leinster have the talent and the success at younger levels to make sure it remains.

But it should be a priority for the Leinster team management to pick the right players, the right game plan and adjust accordingly throughout a game to make sure this team is given every chance to sustain what has been built up over the last 10-15 years.

It is in the nature of professional rugby team managements to work within a self-developed cocoon of staff. It has been the case for both Ireland and all of the provinces for years. Although it is normal these days, in the generations that have gone before, there was a selection committee.

Fortunately or unfortunately this means that the head coach has full control of selection with his assistants unlikely to object at the selection table.

Living and working in this cocoon eventually means that the coaches don't see the wood from the trees as they are surrounded by 'yes men' in the management team because of their over-willingness to have their contracts extended with the head coach.

It happened with Eddie O'Sullivan when it came to Ronan O'Gara and David Humphreys. And also in O'Gara's latter days with Johnny Sexton when Declan Kidney was in charge.

At Irish level, coaches can somewhat get away with it but at provincial level coaches can't. Players need consistency in selection at provincial level. That consistency gives them time to develop into the role with those around them.

If you want to build a provincial team, first of all start with your players. Pick a dominant out-half to run the backline. Pick an openside wing-forward for ball retention, a hooker and a front row for power, protection and precision, a line-out operator in the second-row to lead the forwards and a ball carrying, hard-hitting defensive back-row.


Add a sprinkle of the world's finest backs and if you're lucky enough to have all of this at your disposal, you have a world-class team.

Last season, the Leinster faithful mourned the departure of Sexton. Johnny demanded a performance from all around him both on and off the pitch. That raw ambition and drive was manifested in him from his years of service with Brian O'Driscoll, Shane Horgan and Gordon D'Arcy outside him.

When he left, there was a huge gap to fill. To everyone's pleasant surprise, Ian Madigan stood up to the mark. He finished off last season so well that the status in Leinster looked like it would remain the same. Madigan was then picked at full-back and centre at the start of the season and struggled to get his place for the European outings. The end result being the announcement during the week of his exclusion from Ireland's tour of Argentina – despite since benefiting from Paddy Jackson's injury.

Last weekend saw the Leinster bench pull a game from the fire. Leo Cullen, Sean O'Brien and Madigan gave Leinster the necessary injection to keep their season alive. We will know by the selection next weekend whether or not Leinster have learned but if it's too late for this season, it's not for next.

Madigan has to start at out-half. He has the necessary skills and talent and he also has the pace and power. He proved that last weekend by breaking three tackles for his try. Whatever misgivings coaches may have, he must be allowed the game time to improve.

The players that started last week have developed into the tidal wave of Leinster's success. Rhys Ruddock and Devin Toner were outstanding with the consistent usual suspects around them. The squad has been built through years of hard work and belief – do not let seeds of doubt grow now.

Leinster have a long injury list to sort out before the final, which is inevitable in a contact sport. However, there seems to be a doubt over the word 'concussion' and how and when to use it.

Players and coaches alike seem to fudge their words when explaining this injury to the press. The process is simple: on the pitch the last line of defence for the players' well-being is the referee.

I use Alain Rolland's example in the Six Nations some years ago when he refused to let Martyn Williams, the Welsh wing forward, play on. Alain correctly deemed him unfit to play. This one decision by one of the world's greatest referees helped pave the way for many parents to let their kids take up the game at mini level.

Off the pitch, it's the responsibility of the team doctor. The team doctor has two choices: protect the team or protect the player. If the doctor wants to elongate his career in sport he or she will more than likely protect the team.


In Leinster's case, not every team has been so lucky to have someone like Professor Arthur Tanner – who has overseen the welfare of his Leinster players for more than 20 years.

If he deems a player unfit, his decision is final. This process is in place and it should be trusted. The game has changed but the fundamentals have not. At the very least it will stop ex-players complaining that they had concussion in their careers that went unnoticed.

Sexton's decision to go to Racing Metro and the amount of games they play might fall foul of the welfare of his health and fitness. Maybe that's why Joe is bringing him to Argentina – nothing like a bit of one-on-one to convince a player to return to home soil.

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