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Madigan 'a better 12 than a 10' and more Champions Cup discussion topics

Sky Sports pundits Stuart Barnes, Alan Quinlan and Paul Wallace look ahead to this year’s big upcoming tournament.

Alan Quinlan, Stuart Barnes and Paul Wallace 3/10/2014 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

(Sky Sports pundits Stuart Barnes, Alan Quinlan and Paul Wallace were at the Guinness Storehouse to promote a great year of Irish rugby on Sky Sports including Guinness Pro 12, European Rugby Challenge and Champions Cups and the Irish Rugby Guinness Autumn tests)

STUART BARNES, PAUL Wallace and Alan Quinlan chat to TheScore.ie about this year’s Champions Cup…

Leinster have lost arguably their two best ball carriers recently. Can they still win the Champions Cup without them?

Paul Wallace: Look who’s come in. Rhys Ruddock has grown up in Argentina. Physically, as a specimen, you’d say this guy’s perfect. He’s always been an intelligent player, always been a leader. He lacked a bit of dynamic ball carrying, which Sean O’Brien brings. But he’s brought that through. You need players who can step in and do a job. Like O’Brien, he’s more of a natural six, because he’s a lineout player.

And the other guy, I think, who is going to be a standout player is the prop, Jack McGrath. He’s a more aggressive scrummager than Cian Healy. In saying that, I think Healy is one of the best props in the world. McGrath doesn’t have the dynamic play that Healy shows around the park, but his scrummaging is better, he’s got a bigger frame. I think he has the potential to be right up there with Cian. You get different things from the two of them, but from what I’ve seen over the last season and a half, I think McGrath is exceptional.

Alan Quinlan: From what we’ve seen so far from Leinster, Munster and Ulster, none of them can win it at the moment. With respect to Jack McGrath and Rhys Ruddock, they’re very good players, but they’re miles behind two world-class players [Healy and O'Brien]. To become world class, you have to do it consistently. McGrath is a brilliant player and Ruddock has come on so much. I think both will play international rugby regularly with the guys out, but it’s a tough job to stay up there when you get up there.

When it comes to ball carriers throughout the world, Healy and O’Brien are phenomenal. I know Sean has had a few injury worries in recent seasons. It’s the first big one Healy has had. I know he had the ankle injury with the Lions, but it’s a worry for him. On paper, I don’t think the Irish teams can win the Champions Cup at the moment. For Leinster, Ben Te’o needs to bring something exceptional when he comes in. I don’t think the Madigan, D’Arcy, Gopperth combination [will work]. When you go around Europe, you’re going to meet some monsters in the 10 and 12 channels.

Wallace: Madigan and D’Arcy were exceptional in the Pro12 final. They provide a different balance — you’ve got a ball carrier who can spin it wide. Gordon D’Arcy — when I played with him, he was a full-back and a winger before he got moved into 13 and was player of the season at 13, when Brian [O'Driscoll] was 12. Then they switched over. He did an amazing job at 12, but I think Gordon is more naturally a 13. It’s just because he had that man O’Driscoll there. So I think this could be one of his best years.

But I do agree with what Quinny was saying. When you do play against the Toulons, you might need a bit more physicality around there and the fact that you don’t have Jonny Sexton, you’ve Eoin Reddan and Jimmy Gopperth. It could be a centre partnership that works very well for Ireland with those big guys — Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble — outside of them, you need a bit of balance.

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Final - RC Toulon v Saracens - Millennium Stadium

(RC Toulon’s Matt Giteau is expected to be a key player in this year’s Champions Cup)

Stuart Barnes: I think at the moment, even with Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien, Leinster are not contenders to win the European Cup. And I say that, because I think 19 teams aren’t contenders. Toulon, if Matt Giteau stays fit, are a completely different team. The fact that he plays the gain line and brings [Mathieu] Bastareaud or [Maxime] Mermoz onto the gain line, changes everything.

They’ve got a second team and they’ve got people like [Mamuka] Gorgodze playing. You have to factor in injuries throughout the season. They could get half a team injured and they’d still look as strong as anyone. They now have what Leinster had for a few years, which is a winning mentality. They’ve won the last two Europeans and the French League. They’ve lost a few games but they’ve missed about a million kicks in each of them. If Giteau stays fit, I think it’s Toulon and the rest of the field.

Quinlan: I think there’s about four of five others — Clermont, Montpellier, Northampton, Saracens…

Barnes: I’d still put Leinster there, just below Touolon with the others

Wallace: But Toulon had Jonny Wilkinson at 10, when it came to knockout rugby. You’ve all that power, but if you can’t harness it… They can play Sanchez there.

Barnes: Matt Giteau is over 80% in his test match career as a goalkicker. It’s one of those things that we in the media have a habit of going ‘he’s a runner, therefore he’s not a great kicker’. He’s got a vision, he kicks his goals and with Sanchez there as well, they’ve got backup. If Frédéric Michilak played in a final, I’d put all my mortgage on the other team, but other than that, I think they’re covered.

Wilko was a fantastic big-match cup player, but one of the reasons Toulon got so much ball and didn’t put teams away is because Jonny was quite conservative. He doesn’t turn territory into points other than drop points. If you watch Toulon when Giteau plays, they are running in a torrent of tries, because with good ball he’s coming at you non-stop. Wilkinson pyschologically did a huge amount for Toulon. He helped turn them into winners. But I think Giteau takes them to the next level and that’s frightening.

Wallace: Not just his goalkicking, but he’s such a threat that sometimes he runs when he should be kicking.

Barnes: His game management is fantastic. He’s one of the best 10s on this planet

Ian Madigan and Cian Healy carry Brian O'Driscoll after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

(Leinster can no longer rely on Brian O’Driscoll, who retired last season)

Brian O’Driscoll – how big a loss will he be for Leinster?

Wallace: I think the final last year showed that. A lot of the stuff that isn’t talked about with Brian O’Driscoll — his defence of the 13 channel, how well he read the game, his work off the ball. He wasn’t in vintage form in his last season, and maybe that’s why Leinster were scoring less tries. But as a figurehead player, he’s obviously worth his weight in gold, as a Paul O’Connell is in Munster. But Madigan and D’Arcy are doing a pretty good job and there are enough leaders there. Yet you’re always going to be affected when you lose a player with the ability of O’Driscoll.

Are Madigan and D’Arcy the way forward as a centre pairing?

Wallace: We don’t have any big physical players from an Irish perspective. If they get players in like Te’o that might make it different again. As a footballing duo, they’re very good, but do they have the size and balance? You talk about Giteau. Then you’ve got your hammer and sword. It’s a big job for D’Arcy to do it, you’ve still got big physical players coming back, that’ll be good. I think from a Pro12 perspective, definitely. Maybe even internationally. But possibly not in Europe.

Do you see Madigan as more of a 10 or a 12 in the long term?

Quinlan: I think Madigan should sign for Munster — if he wants to play at 10 and sees himself as a 10. He can be a Giteau-type player at 12. He’s a fantastic footballer, brilliant hands. But if he wants to be a 10, it’s time for him to really step up and get that experience. I know Leinster will do everything in their power to keep him because he’s a really talented footballer. He can play full-back, outside and inside centre, and he can come up with big plays. He’s a really talented guy. But if he wants to play 10, he should move.

JJ Hanrahan kicks a penalty Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Does that mean JJ Hanrahan should move too?

Quinlan: Well I’m talking about an established international [Jonny Sexton] coming back — a British and Irish Lion. He’s up there with probably the best in the world. So it’s a different scenario.

Madigan might go somewhere else. If it was me personally, I’d take him, because of the depth he offers. I think JJ Hanrahan can play centre as well. It sounds terrible, but I think Madigan is ahead of Keatley at the moment in terms of Irish selections for squads.

It’s a personal thing for the guy. Where does he see an opportunity in which he can be a starting 10 for the big games? It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to say he would have a better chance at Munster than Leinster. I’m not bringing Keatley and JJ Hanrahan into it even if it does affect them directly. You could say the same for any player. When I was at Munster, there were six international back-rows. I either stay and fight for my place, or go somewhere else where I fancy my chances better.

You don’t just walk out and throw the toys out of the pram for any individual who can’t get on the team. Every individual is different, but if I’m Ian Madigan, I want to play 10 and start. He’s not a young fella anymore now. If he’s happy to play as a 12 for Ireland and Leinster, then fair enough. But if not, he’s got to move.

Barnes: I’d say Giteau is improving because they’re not messing around and putting him at 12. He’s clearly shown it in his game. 10 is great if you have a stint at 12 maybe, certainly at full-back. It’s like an education, and once your education is complete, you have play 10 and have that control. I’m certain Sexton will find his mojo again easily when he gets back to Ireland. He’s the best fly-half in Europe, he’s the best European fly-half.

Does Madigan say I want to be cover for Ireland, or does Madigan say I want to be 12? I watch Madigan and I think his ability to do things on the gainline, his step… He reminds me a bit of Mike Catt — people say he has a vision, but his vision is quite close to what’s around him. It doesn’t mean he can’t kick, but he sees things quite late as a 12. I think Sexton sees things broader and earlier as a 10.

I think Madigan is a better 12 than he is a 10 anyway, because he gets on the gainline. He’s got the feet and he can do things. If I was Joe Schmidt, I wouldn’t want him to leave Leinster, I’d be wanting him and Sexton to be 10 and 12 for Leinster.

And that could be the midfield Ireland are taking into the World Cup. They’d play most weeks together, you couldn’t wish for better because they’d have that symbiotic relationship. But if he says he’s a 10 and he wants to play 10, you’ve got to respect that. It’s heroic in a way, because he ain’t going to get the shirt off Sexton.

Sky Sports has more Irish rugby than ever before including Guinness Pro 12, European Rugby Challenge and Champions Cups and the Irish Rugby Guinness Autumn test series. Sky customers can call 0818 719819 to avail of some great half price sports offers.

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