Sport Rugby

Monday 19 March 2018

Tony Ward: Leinster must nurture Madigan’s maverick streak

Leinster's Ian Madigan during squad training ahead of their side's match against Ulster on Saturday
Leinster's Ian Madigan during squad training ahead of their side's match against Ulster on Saturday

Ian Madigan produced a tour de force at the RDS against Glasgow Warriors last Saturday, although it must be said that one swallow never made a summer.

What I will say, however, is that an out-half of extraordinary potential came to the fore with a match-winning performance against a top-class team.

This sort of performance has been coming for some time from Madigan. Whenever he has stepped into Jonny Sexton's boots, he has done so with genuine conviction.

In the early days of professionalism, 'first receiver' became one of the many buzz terms repeatedly trotted out. So much so that having multiple first receivers began to supplant the need for one dominant out-half in the minds of some.

It was a road to nowhere that was quickly abandoned. In the modern game, everybody is a potential first receiver, but everyone in the team knows who the one and only true first receiver is.

For Leinster, the definitive first receiver has long been Sexton, but now, with the Ireland and soon to be Lions No 10 moving to France, Madigan is set to become that playmaker and game-manager.

At this point, I beg permission for a little self-indulgence. As a player I had my critics, but never could I be accused of not admitting to my faults.

None of us are perfect, but I never lacked the moral courage to always give it a go. Irrespective of the pre-conceived play, I would react as the situation arose. These days, they call it 'heads-up rugby'.

So when Madigan did what he did in the in-goal area in the second half and outlandishly chipped the ball over the fast-closing Glasgow defence, I got a shiver up my spine.

Madigan believed in what he was doing in the heat of the moment, he had the wherewithal and conviction to give it a shot and on this occasion he got the bounce of the ball he deserved.

Was it conventional? No. Were Joe Schmidt and Jono Gibbes apoplectic? Probably. Will he do it again? I sincerely hope so.

It broke every rule in the robotic, pre-rehearsed book, but hey, it worked a treat.

In that moment of magic, Madigan demonstrated the spark of invention that makes him different.

It should make him the full-time successor to Sexton in the Leinster pivotal position and hopefully will now see him earn a ticket to the US and Canada this summer at the very least level, with Paddy Jackson as the Ireland out-half to start on that tour, irrespective of who is the head coach.


You cannot buy intuition, and Schmidt, who I would most like to see making that call as Ireland coach in June, made two revealing comments in the aftermath of Saturday night's humdinger.

Firstly he said: "I would be inclined to take the pressure off him and say, 'play what you see in front of you, play your natural game'."

Hearing that was encouraging, but Schmidt's next comment was a little concerning: "The great thing about him (Madigan) is that he has played full-back for us and filled in at 12 and 13. He is getting better at running the game."

The astute Kiwi needs little reminding that Madigan will get even better at running the game the more experience he gets wearing the No 10 shirt. It is mighty difficult to run the game wearing 12, 13 or 15.

The Blackrock College graduate is still a long way from being the complete string-pulling out-half that Sexton now is, but what he has over and above the ordinary is the courage, conviction and ability to attack flat and step at pace through any gap or slowness in the opposition defence.

That ability must not be inhibited. What he must add to his game is the tactical nous off the boot that Sexton, and more particularly Ronan O'Gara, possess.

That can be achieved through patience, practice and, more than anything, big-match experience in the position.

I suspect Declan Kidney will receive a lot more criticism, given his preference for Jackson over Madigan.

His reasons for picking Jackson to face the Scots were valid enough, based on the Ulster man being a regular starter for his province.

To that add the advantage the national management will always enjoy of seeing behind closed doors how new players blend in at training and how the various new dynamics – on the field and off it – work.

All that said, when you balance Six Nations form against all recent evidence, the head coach did get it wrong.

Saturday's contrasting performances from Jackson at Murrayfield and Madigan in Ballsbridge could make for the final nail in Kidney's coffin.

Jackson still has much to offer at the highest level, but right now Madigan, despite his shortcomings, is substantially ahead in the race to fill O'Gara's shoes as replacement cover to Sexton for Ireland.

But Schmidt should forget about versatility and focus 100pc on developing Madigan into the outstanding out-half and game-manager it is already clear he can be.

A top-quality outside-half came of age in D4 last Saturday.

It might be a time of transition for Leinster, but a very bright light appeared at the end of a very dark tunnel that was created when Sexton announced his imminent departure to Racing Metro back in January.

Madigan may be a work in progress, but this natural successor is providing exciting evidence that he is getting there.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport