Saturday 20 January 2018

Madigan gets the stage to stake out-half claim

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Houston

IAN MADIGAN is expected to start for Ireland for the first time against the US Eagles on Saturday as interim coach Les Kiss prepares to hand debuts to Connacht's Robbie Henshaw and Ulster's Stuart Olding.

The 24-year-old out-half will be looking to repeat the form he showed for Leinster this season in Jonny Sexton's absence and edge ahead of incumbent Paddy Jackson as back-up to the Lions No 10.

Kiss has indicated that he is likely to give both out-halves a chance on the two-match tour, so the Ulsterman looks likely to start against Canada in Toronto next week.

Madigan won two caps off the bench during the Six Nations, but he has yet to play in his favoured position for Ireland as Jackson held on to the out-half berth after making being chosen over Ronan O'Gara to start against Scotland in Murrayfield.

The newcomer is likely to be able to lean on the familiarity of playing alongside his clubmate Isaac Boss, who looks set to return to Test rugby for the first time since facing Russia during the 2011 World Cup.

Both players come into the clash on the back of some excellent club form, although Madigan was forced to move to inside centre for Leinster's two finals after Sexton's return to fitness.

US coach Mike Tolkin highlighted Madigan as the main threat to his team at Tuesday's pre-match press conference and it is clear he will be watched closely by the Eagles' defence.

Henshaw's rapid rise to prominence looks set to continue with the Athlone native, who turns 20 on Wednesday, likely to become just the fourth teenager to be capped by Ireland in the professional age entering an exclusive club that includes Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Rhys Ruddock.

Olding's late-season form has caught Kiss' eye and he was originally the only recognised inside centre named in the squad, although James Downey was drafted in as cover when the Ulster man suffered an ankle injury against Leinster in the Pro12 final.

That has cleared up sufficiently for the 20-year-old, just three months Henshaw's senior, to make his first appearance for Ireland.

Captain Peter O'Mahony will lead from the No 8 position in a pack that could see Dave Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson make their first starts after winning a number of caps each off the bench. Kiss announces his team at 11.0 (Irish time) tonight.

With Joe Schmidt arriving in the Texan city tomorrow, the new coach will get a chance to sample what awaits him with his soon-to-be-assistant Kiss looking to field a young side packed with pace.

But the callowness of the squad could be a factor against an Eagles side with plenty of European nous in the pack and the likes of Northampton's Samu Manoa, Stade Francais' former Trinity lock Scott LaValla and experienced captain Todd Clever looking to gain an edge up front.

Leadership is another issue, with the core of Jamie Heaslip, Rory Best, Rob Kearney, Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll with the Lions and Donnacha Ryan, D'Arcy and Eoin Reddan among those injured or rested.

Hooker Richardt Strauss may be a relative novice at international level, but his Heineken Cup experience means that he will be expected to lead from the front on Saturday.

The South African-born Leinster man has noticed his colleagues stepping up to the plate since arriving in the US. "I will try and go about my business; if that offers some leadership, then I'm happy to do that," he said.

"We have some great leaders here. Guys like Devin Toner and Isaac Boss have been really good. 'Mads' and Paddy Jackson have been throwing their weight in and organising the team. I'm pretty happy with where we are at the moment."

Ireland (v USA Eagles, probable) – R Henshaw; F McFadden, D Cave, S Olding, S Zebo; I Madigan, I Boss; D Kilcoyne, R Strauss, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; I Henderson, C Henry, P O'Mahony (capt).

Irish Independent

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