Gopperth form denting Madigan's Irish hopes
New boy's grip on Blues No 10 jersey elbowing young star out of Test picture, writes Ruaidhri O'Connor
IAN MADIGAN's prospects of keeping the Ireland No 10 shirt are fading by the week as Jimmy Gopperth continues in the role for Leinster.
The New Zealander has laid down an early season marker to his rival with his opening performances in blue, making himself extremely difficult to shift out of the out-half position.
Madigan does get his first start of the season against Glasgow tonight, but he does so at full-back and, with Rob Kearney on the bench for the first time, that role is soon to be filled by a scorned Lion with a point to prove.
There was a general assumption that Madigan was a natural successor to Jonny Sexton when the Ireland star headed to France to play for Racing Metro, but Joe Schmidt knew what he was doing when he rang then Newcastle pivot Gopperth last season and offered him a spot at Leinster.
A Super Rugby star who was unfortunate to be born around the same time as Dan Carter, Gopperth is an experienced and talented operator whose arrival was designed to provide real competition to Leinster's player of the year for last season.
His arrival and early impact have left Madigan lacking game time in his favoured position, at a time when Sexton is getting more games than ever in France and Paddy Jackson is first-choice No 10 at Ulster.
Madigan (24) saw off the claims of younger rival Jackson to start both of Ireland's summer Tests on the tour of North America.
But as he heads to Carton House tomorrow for the first Ireland training session under his former provincial coach, the Blackrock College graduate will know that he needs to be starting games at out-half to have any chance of retaining the shirt now that Sexton is back.
Kearney and Cian Healy are the first of Leinster's Lions to return to the fold, with both men named on the bench tonight.
Loosehead prop Healy only returned to contact training this week after the ankle injury that wrecked his tour, but he goes straight into the action.
Starting in his place is the latest addition to the Ireland fold, Jack McGrath, who is another to lay down an early-season marker with a string of excellent displays.
Glasgow have two of their Lions available as full-back Stuart Hogg and loosehead Ryan Grant start; the hosts come into the clash on the back of beating Ulster at Ravenhill last week and will have a point to prove having outplayed Leinster for large parts of last year's Pro12 semi-final before ending up on the losing side.
Although they are not yet hitting the heights they reached towards the end of last season, the Warriors are formidable opponents and any thoughts new coach Matt O'Connor had of an easy start to the season went out the window with the fixture list he was handed.
By the time they take the field against the Ospreys on Heineken Cup opening weekend, the three-time European champions will have already played two of last year's semi-finalists in the Welsh side and Glasgow as well as Munster.
"In some ways, it's probably not ideal," blindside Kevin McLaughlin admitted.
"Matt would have said when he saw the fixtures early on that it wasn't exactly a welcoming few games for him – especially the way we've started the last few seasons.
"It's straight into the harder games – Ospreys at home, Glasgow away are two of the tougher games that you're going to get going into the season so it'll get us up and running alright. We got a bit of an awakening on the weekend."
The shock of the Ospreys' comeback should have given Leinster fair warning ahead of this clash and they'll need to live up to the picture painted by Warriors winger Sean Lamont if they are to leave Scotstoun with the points.
"They're a quality side, they know how to grind out wins and they've got a lot of intelligent players who know how to milk penalties, know how to steal yards, make it an absolute nightmare at the breakdown – all that sort of stuff," the Scotland star acknowledged.
Whether it is enough for them remains to be seen.
GLASGOW WARRIORS – S Hogg; S Lamont, M Bennett, A Dunbar, DTH van der Merwe; R Jackson, C Cusiter (capt); R Grant, P MacArthur, J Welsh; J Gray, T Swinson; R Harley, C Fusaro, R Vernon. Reps: D Hall, J Yanuyanutawa, E Kalman, J Eddie, J Strauss, H Pyrgos, S Wight, B McGuigan.
LEINSTER – I Madigan; D Kearney, B Macken, G D'Arcy, D Fanning; J Gopperth, I Boss; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Ross; M McCarthy, T Denton; K McLaughlin, S Jennings (capt), J Murphy. Reps: A Dundon, C Healy, M Moore, D Toner, D Ryan, E Reddan, N Reid, R Kearney.
REF – Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster,
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