Thursday 18 January 2018

Ian Madigan: I'd be lying if I said Rome wasn't on my mind

If Leinster get the job done and go onto great things in Europe, there will be a search for the moment things turned in their favour and Ian Madigan's (pictured) spark of individualism will be lit up in neon
If Leinster get the job done and go onto great things in Europe, there will be a search for the moment things turned in their favour and Ian Madigan's (pictured) spark of individualism will be lit up in neon
Leinster's Ian Madigan practising his kicking skills at Landsdowne Rugby Club during the week
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

This lunch-time marks a watershed moment in Leinster's season. Victory opens up all sorts of possibilities and casts the gloom of the latter part of 2014 into the rear-view mirror.

If they get the job done and go on to great things in Europe, there will be a search for the moment things turned in their favour and Ian Madigan's spark of individualism will be lit up in neon.

It seems almost a distant memory now, but Ulster should have been almost out of sight at half-time in the RDS three weeks ago.

Leinster had again failed to fire and the home crowd were getting increasingly restless. At one point, a series of mistakes underneath the Grandstand and the atmosphere turned borderline mutinous.

Early in the second half, with Ulster down to 14 men, the beleaguered home side managed a penalty deep in the opposition '22 and Madigan shaped to kick to touch.

Instead, he dummy soloed and darted towards the line where he forced his way through Callum Black and Franco van der Merwe to touch down.

Leinster haven't looked back, Madigan describes the Ulster game as the day the squad feel they "turned a corner" and the moment that turned the game came when he gave the opposing pack the eyes and backed himself to the hilt.

Practice

"It wasn't a pre-called move, it was something I practised and had in mind from the start of the season," Madigan recalls. "From watching a lot of rugby I'd see the out-half kicking the ball to touch and I'd see the defending team switching off or turning their back.

"Me and Jimmy (Gopperth) were practising our line kicking during the summer, I said to him 'I think I sniff a try off dummying to kick to touch, a dummy solo' - I thought about doing it about three games before the Ulster game and just before I did it I thought the team had switched on.

"Looking back at the replay of it, I don't know if it was as on as I thought it was at the time, but once you make the decision to tap and go yourself; you have to at least, minimum, get over the try-line. If you don't get it down, your team at least has a scrum back.

"Worst case scenario is you don't get it down, you get turned over and people say it's a rash decision. There was a thought process behind it, it's a simple skill - soloing the ball to yourself - but it is something I practice.

"Dummying the kick, doing the solo, getting as low as you can to make sure it get over the line. Yeah, it was nice that it paid off."

In the modern game, such individualism is often coached out of players. The percentages are king. Madigan is different. At 25, he is the darling of fans and pundits but the trust of his coaches is harder to come by.

Although he started at out-half against Ulster and Munster, he has been back in the No12 shirt ahead of Gordon D'Arcy for the big European games against Castres and Wasps.

The important thing for Madigan is that he's starting. The jersey is less relevant. "The only time I get really nervous is on a Sunday night, when I'd be worried that I wouldn't be starting," he says. "My worry would never be what position I would be starting at, because once you're in a starting spot it's about getting as best prepared as possible."

Today's game marks his 14th start in blue this season, the same amount he managed in the totality of 2013/14.

Although Leinster have struggled at times and been roundly criticised, their playmaker is relishing the responsibility he's been given.

With Ireland, he came off the bench against South Africa and Australia, making the decisive play in the dramatic win over the Wallabies. A year on from his defensive misread that allowed Ryan Crotty break Ireland's hearts at the Aviva Stadium, it must have been satisfactory.

"I'm really enjoying this year, I've played in a few different positions but what's been really important for me is that I've been starting and been injury-free," he says. "It's been my most enjoyable season so far, just going out to enjoy games and playing week in, week out."

The next step is an Ireland start against Italy on February 7. Johnny Sexton's concussions will rule him out, while Paddy Jackson is also out of the picture. Despite a lack of regular game time in the out-half slot, Madigan would appear to be next in line for the shirt with Ian Keatley his main rival.

"I'd be lying if I said that Rome wasn't on my mind," he concedes. "The way I deal with that though is by going through the process. How do I get to put myself in the best position for Joe to select me and that is, without doubt, is by playing well for Leinster.

"My focus has been very much game by game. The two inter-pros before Christmas have led into the European matches. Playing well against Castres and then go out there and play my best in the Wasps game. That's the best way to approach Ireland selection, not wishing or hoping."

To hear Madigan tell it, the difference between playing at out-half and centre is not that big a deal, but the physical elements take their toll.

"Playing in the centre, you still have to execute a lot of the core skills you'd have to do at out-half, the passing and tacking, but there's more of an emphasis on the amount of rucks you have to hit," he explains.

"Being one of the lighter guys, that takes a lot out of you. There's also the collisions, they're going to be bigger.

"When you're a centre, there's going to be times when you're going to be numbers down in attack when you've to put your head down and carry hard. When you're out-half, you can shift it to someone else but in the centre you have to take responsibility.

"You've got to prepare for those things during the week, but still at centre I'd help Jimmy with calling the plays and with the strategy that Matt would be pushing means I'd still prepare the same way for playing in the centre as I would in out-half.

"So, there's not a massive difference in how I prepare but the physical side of things is definitely up a level."

Today, he can expect some heavy traffic against a big Wasps back-row who love to carry ball, but where Leinster really need their inside centre is in maintaining his excellent record off the tee and creating havoc in a defence that limited Harlequins to three points last week. Wasps' win at the Stoop has opened up the season for Leinster. Victory in Coventry will ensure a home quarter-final.

"Would we prefer that Quins had beaten Wasps and it wasn't in our hands?" Madigan ponders. "No is the answer; if we beat them, finish top then we won't have to worry about other results. That's where we want to be, in control of our own destiny.

"We have to keep improving, but there's definitely a feeling in the camp that we did turn a corner three weekends ago against Ulster and it's all about building on that."

To get over the line, they'll need their best display of the season and, although teams are expecting the unexpected from the No12, he packed his box of tricks just in case.

"Teams might anticipate that I go for these quick taps, but at the same time the more tricks that you have in your book the better," he concludes.

Leinster's Ian Madigan was speaking as a Setanta Sports ambassador in advance of his team's trip to the Ricoh Arena to face Wasps this afternoon. The game is live on BT Sports which is only available in Ireland as part of the Setanta Sports pack.

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