Tuesday 24 October 2017

Madigan refuses to rest on his laurels

Leinster's Ian Madigan: Key figure for Leinster this season
Leinster's Ian Madigan: Key figure for Leinster this season
Ian Madigan: 'We're the only Pro12 team left in the Champions Cup full stop. That's the reality'

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Only four days after one of the most gripping and absorbing ends to any Six Nations in memory, Ian Madigan has yet to take it all in.

"I suppose you couldn't have scripted it especially the way the first game went. Sarto's try at the end for Italy showed that they kept fighting despite the yellow cards and the mountain they had to climb. That try made our job that little bit easier."

He says the last bit with a smile because easy it was not. True, the required 28-point margin was now down to 21 due to Sarto's converted try at the death but a 21-point winning margin in Murrayfield does not come easy.

"It was a little bit different to a normal game in that you had a target in the back of your mind but the rest stays the same. If you don't execute and if are not consistent, then winning margins are irrelevant. We were also very conscious of the threat that Scotland posed with a very strong Glasgow Warriors spine through the team. We couldn't lose focus on winning the game first and foremost."

A try after 30 minutes by Finn Russell underlined this very point.

Reinforced

"I suppose we had the best start really in that Paul (O'Connell) went over for a try and that set the tone but the Russell try just reinforced the fact that this was not going to come easy and we had to stay alert for the whole 80 minutes."

Not just empty rhetoric either. Scotland have made a habit of raining on various Irish parades over the years. Last game in Murrayfield in 2013? 12-8 win for the Scots. In 2010 and the last game in Croke Park? Dan Parks kicked them to a three-point win.

"Those results and tight wins or narrow losses were on our minds so there was never a case of underestimating the task at hand which was to win a Test match, which is never easy."

Madigan was involved in all five Six Nations games this season and was called into action with ten minutes to go against Scotland.

"Whatever your role on match day you prepare accordingly. Whether starting or on the bench or even 24th man everyone knows what needs to be done and what is expected of them. Obviously you want to start but if on the bench, you play a lot of the game in your head, you see what's going on and what space there might be or opportunities to exploit.

"The reality is that in a contact sport you could be in after two minutes or like Tommy (O'Donnell) on the first day against Italy called into the starting 15 minutes before the throw in. My first real involvement was I suppose kicking a conversion so I was straight into the game. It was great to be involved in the game and I enjoyed closing the game out and playing my part."

There was though a missed penalty late on that could have been crucial. Has it played on his mind since?

"Of course as a kicker you want to get all your kicks and Richie (Murphy) the kicking coach and I had a brief chat about it and we've already identified why I missed it. It's one of those things.

"You can't let it influence future performances because I will be in that same situation again and I will treat every kick the same and will isolate it from the game and from what's gone on before. I will trust my technique and hope that that is enough.

"The other thing is that even had I kicked it, it wouldn't have been down to me. The win would have been down to everyone's efforts and in a team sport, we all make mistakes but we also contribute massively to the collective. So you win as a team and you lose as a team. Thankfully, we came out on the right side of this one."

Saturday was his eighth appearance for Ireland this season on the back of 16 games for Leinster. In three seasons playing in green, in terms of caps won, this is his best one yet. But it's World Cup year and all bets are off.

"I have always said that all I can control is how I play for Leinster and how I do when Matt (O'Connor) gives me a jersey. I am really enjoying my rugby under Matt the last two seasons and while I know there has been a lot of talk about my position on the pitch, the reality is that I am playing more rugby now than ever before. It is no secret - nor is it a big deal - that my preference is ten, but I have really enjoyed my time at 12 or at full-back. I enjoy playing for Matt and the other coaches and playing the role that they have for me." Again a cursory look through the stats shows the truth of what the 26-year-old says. He's had a few injuries but has started all six Champions Cup games this season. That was only two last year, four the year before and one the year before that. Similarly of his ten Pro12 games, he has eight starts compared with 12 starts from 20 last season. He is central to everything Leinster and Matt O'Connor do.

"I don't know if I would go that far. The competition for places is huge across all the positions and you can't afford to rest up or take it easy. But the reality of my game time this season is that more often than not, when fit, I have started and of course ask any player, they want to start. It is then up to you to justify that faith of the coach and to perform and over the next few weeks I hope to get that chance from Matt."

Leinster have had their magic moments this year but they have also had their disappointments. Madigan though feels that they are still in control.

Disappointing

"I know people will look at fifth position in the Pro12 as disappointing but we are two points off the top four with plenty of games to go. We are the only team from the Pro12 and the Aviva Premiership with a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup. We are the only Pro12 team left in the Champions Cup full stop. That's the reality.

"Our squad has been severely tested by injury and young lads have been blooded and have been given great exposure to this level. Of course at times we haven't performed the way we would have liked to and if you want to look for the negatives you'll find them but I think there have been huge positives this season that are too easily overlooked. We are still in the hunt on two fronts which not many teams can say. The next two weekends will be tough and could define our season but these are the moments you play for."

First up Glasgow. Then Bath. It's time for some more magic moments.

Irish Independent

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