Tuesday 16 July 2019

Versatile Madigan won't be daunted if called upon to play scrum-half

Joe Schmidt is determined to make the most of Ian Madigan's versatility
Joe Schmidt is determined to make the most of Ian Madigan's versatility
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Playing under pressure is something that Ian Madigan made a point of instilling in his mindset from an early age but come tomorrow afternoon, he will experience something completely different.

Madigan has been given the nod ahead of Paddy Jackson at out-half, which would suggest that Joe Schmidt views him as Johnny Sexton's primary back-up.

It's a massive confidence boost for Madigan as he gets ready to start his first World Cup game, but he may also face the prospect of finding himself in another new position.

Schmidt described his decision to bring just two scrum-halves as a "calculated risk" with Madigan chosen as emergency cover and should tomorrow's clash against Romania go the way that the coach expects, the versatile Leinster playmaker could well find himself getting some game-time at nine.

"It is one thing that we might do," Schmidt revealed.

"We want to get him a bit of game time at 10 as well. If the game is going in a direction where we think that Ian would benefit from 15 minutes at nine then that's possible."

Playing across the back line comes second nature to Madigan but his experience at scrum-half is severely limited.

Nevertheless, the added responsibility isn't something that fazes him given the pressure he has always put himself under.


"Working with expectation is something I have dealt with since I was 10 years old playing mini rugby," Madigan recalls.


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"Driving in my car with my dad and my brother, I would be thinking that I want to score five tries today. I'd put that expectation on myself.

"That was no different than when I was playing with Kilmacud Crokes and obviously that expectation was bigger when I went to Blackrock College and obviously when you are playing with a club like Leinster the expectation is huge.

"So it is something I have a lot of experience in, going into games when there's a big expectation on me and on the team.

"It's something I feel I've adapted to well. It's something that I embrace going into big games. These are the situations I want to be in."

Madigan's GAA background is something that he points to as aiding his footballing skills when it comes to rugby.

Not being at Croke Park last weekend to witness Dublin winning the Sam Maguire wasn't ideal but the small matter of a World Cup dictated matters.

"I always learn something whenever I catch up and hear about the training Dublin are doing and how professional they are. They're a phenomenal group - both the hurlers and the footballers," he says.

"Cian (O'Sullivan) was a year ahead of me in school, (Michael Darragh) Macauley was a few years ahead of me. I'd be good friends with Cian. I played with Rory O'Carroll in Crokes.

"I was marked by Johnny Cooper, I'd be good friends with Paul Flynn so I would stay in close contact with the Dublin lads."

The hope is that Madigan won't ever be needed to cover at scrum-half, but Schmidt is only too aware that it is better to be prepared for that situation, should it arise.

Ireland are likely to have few problems seeing off the challenge off a side who are ranked 12 places below them, which would make it understandable why Schmidt may look at giving Madigan some minutes in the unfamiliar position.

"If it happens in a big game, you have got to really trust the guys around you," Madigan maintains.

"A big part of playing scrum-half is playing within what you have prepared that week, listening to your out-half, listening to the forwards around you.

"If I go in with the mentality that I am going to do the basics well and listen to the guys around me, I'd be confident that I would be able to do the job sufficiently well.

"I'm not going in there looking to make scathing breaks or pulling off big plays, I'll go in there and facilitate the guys around me - similar to the way I am approaching out-half this week.

"I'm not going in there to make scintillating breaks, I'm going in there to facilitate other guys around me and if those opportunities present themselves well and good but that is not how I will approach the game.

"If you talk to any of the guys from 1 to 15, what they would be saying to themselves before the game is 'I have got to out there, execute the basics well and trust my instincts'.

"You can't come away from that when you are in the heat of battle and no game is the same and no phase of play is the same so you have to trust your instinct.

"The reason you are selected at international level is because the coach believes our instincts are good and that is why we are in there. That is something I would certainly be relying on if I do have to cover that position," he adds.

Madigan has previously filled in a scrum-half (albeit briefly) for Schmidt during his time with Leinster and he was told at the beginning of the summer that it would be a possibility come the World Cup.

Given that the 26-year old usually prepares for a game knowing that he could find himself in a couple of different positions, his steely mindset remains unperturbed.

"It's nothing different to any other week when I could be covering full-back or centre as well as out-half," he insists.

"I have had some great chats with Eoin (Reddan) and (Conor) Murray as well. They have been generous with their time and have given me advice - if it did to come it how I would cover the position.

"Joe is great at giving you a heads up early in the week. I think for me, if it was a one-off week where suddenly you're covering two spots when you're used to just one then it might be a bit daunting.

"But I've done it for the last three or four years where I've had to cover out-half and centre, out-half and full-back or even out-half and scrum-half. It's no different for me this week and it's not something I feel daunted by."

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