Madigan's place-kicking deciding games for O'Connor's Leinster

The centre’s goal-kicking guided Leinster to another Champions Cup win last weekend.

GOAL-KICKING IS an aspect of rugby we can sometimes take for granted. Perhaps the regularity with which we see the skill performed at expert levels is the reason for that.

Men like Ronan O’Gara, David Humphreys, Eric Elwood and Johnny Sexton have essentially decided games with their efforts from the tee in recent years, but we often remember the misses more than the successes.

Ian Madigan kicks a penalty Ian Madigan was six from six off the tee last weekend. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A study by New Zealand Rugby’s Senior Scientist, Ken Quarrie, last year highlighted that 45% of all points in 582 international rugby matches between 2002 and 2011 came from place-kicks.

Leinster’s exploits in the Champions Cup this season have served up a more recent reminder that a top-class kicker can be the difference between winning and losing.

Ian Madigan kicked six penalties from six attempts in Saturday’s quarter-final win over Bath to bring his European haul to to 98 points so far this season.

That means the Ireland international has kicked 59% of Leinster’s total points [166] in the competition. As his kicking coach Richie Murphy indicates, another player might have kicked similarly well if handed the duties, but Madigan has been superb off the tee.

“At the end of the day, they decide games in many situations like that,” says Murphy. “We’re very lucky to have Jimmy Gopperth  there as well and in the last few weeks while Ian was away, Jimmy had gone on a really good run.

“You need guys to be able to stand up and take those pressure kicks and last weekend Ian kicked from six from six. I think George [Ford] missed two, and at the end of the day there was only three points in the difference.”

Ian Madigan Madigan keeps the head down through his kicking routine. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Madigan also kicked all of Leinster’s points in the crucial 21-16 win away to Castres in the pool stages, as well as all their scores in the 24-18 defeat to Harlequins. The province’s policy of usually opting to kick at goal with penalties plays into that, of course.

There was one off-day for Madigan in terms of place-kicking, as he missed four penalties during the 20-20 draw with Wasps, at least two of which the 26-year-old would have expected to slot.

More recently, Madigan had a high-profile miss from the tee against Scotland on the final day of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, one which ultimately didn’t end up costing Joe Schmidt’s side.

The excellent rated that kick as having an 80.56% success probability. Not one you would have expected Madigan to pull to the left of the posts.

Murphy explains that he didn’t need to go through the miss with Madigan from a mental point of view, instead identifying the technical flaw involved.

“We talked about the technical side of the kick more than anything, because there’s a small issue in his kicking technique that happens from time to time and it was that miss,” says Murphy.

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Richie Murphy Murphy provides Madigan with kicking cues. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“We know that miss really well, so we know what the cues are to move away from that very quickly. The funny thing is that that week I’ve never seen anyone kick the ball so well.

“On the Wednesday he kicked 24 in a row, on the Friday I think he might have missed one, but I don’t know for sure whether he did because I was on the far side looking over and I wasn’t going to ask him. I did go off after that day thinking to myself, ‘I wouldn’t mind him missing one or two more!”

If Leinster are to upset the odds against Toulon in the semi-final in two weekends’ time, you’d expect that they will have to score tries. Regardless, Madigan’s kicking will be pivotal again.

“His goal-kicking has been really good all season,” says Murphy. “I think he’s 12 from 12 since he came back to Leinster, so he’s in a really good place with that.”

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