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Time for Madigan to show O'Connor why he deserves the Leinster number 10 jersey

The 24-year-old needs a big performance against the Cardiff Blues tomorrow night.

Madigan is back at outhalf for tomorrow night's visit of the Cardiff Blues.
Madigan is back at outhalf for tomorrow night's visit of the Cardiff Blues.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

WITH JUST TWO games left until Leinster begin their Heineken Cup campaign away to the Ospreys, Ian Madigan’s return to out-half for the province will be greeted with relief by Joe Schmidt.

The Ireland coach has been central to the development of Madigan’s game, helping the former Blackrock College student to understand his strengths and take full advantage of them on the pitch. Now Schmidt wants the Leinster playmaker in the 10 jersey as often as possible and certainly for the province’s biggest games.

Competition in the international squad is highly desirable for Schmidt and if there is an Irish out-half starting at Leinster, as well as at Munster and Ulster, then the Kiwi will be more than pleased. Beyond the need for Madigan to push for honours with the Ireland squad, his best form will make Leinster a better side. Two outings at fullback have been important for the 24-year-old’s fitness, but he is keen to nail down the number 10 shirt.

The amount of coverage and praise for Jimmy Gopperth’s start to life at Leinster, including from Matt O’Connor, has been surprising. The impression is that the Australian coach is attempting to create a little pressure for Madigan, ensuring that there is no complacency on the Irish international’s part as he assumes a first-choice role with his province for the first time.

Gopperth did well against the Scarlets and the Ospreys, but failed to spark against Glasgow last weekend. It must be remembered that Madigan is a few weeks behind the New Zealander in his match-readiness, having started pre-season at a later date. It is highly likely that Madigan would have made similar inroads in both opening fixtures had he been ready in terms of fitness.

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Madigan was the top points scorer as Leinster won last season’s Pro12. ©INPHO/Colm O’Neill

While Gopperth has been solid in most aspects of the game, the one area of concern is his defence. It takes time to adapt to a team’s defensive system of course, but even taking that into account the 30-year-old has looked hesitant and poorly positioned. Madigan’s defence is safer and far more proactive. Up against the attacking potency of the Ospreys in the first round of the Heineken Cup, his presence would be reassuring.

Gopperth has done lots of positive work in attack over the last few weeks, but his skills lack the polish of Madigan’s. The former has passed into wide channels on several occasions, but his long passing lacks the zip and power of his younger rival’s. Gopperth has also demonstrated the ability to make a line-break, but again we must not forget Madigan’s try-scoring threat and excellent footwork.

O’Connor has been encouraged by Gopperth’s ability to rack up points and he is, admittedly, the second-highest scorer in the Pro12 behind Dan Biggar. However, Ian Madigan was the overall top scorer in the league last season. The point is this: everything the new Kiwi signing can do, the Irishman can do better. Now he has to show that tomorrow night.

Madigan takes control of a side that features Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip. Those players are likely to make his job easier but on the flip side, if Madigan fails to get such a strong team firing then he will come under more pressure.

It’s encouraging that Leinster have a degree of competition at outhalf again this season, despite the departure of Jonny Sexton. However, for Irish rugby it would be infinitely better if Madigan makes himself the undisputed first-choice and continues on the road to fulfilling his potential.

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Murray Kinsella

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