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O'Connor calls on Madigan to step up and into Sexton's shoes

The new Leinster coach hints that the young Irish number 10 may not have the shirt all to himself this season.

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

NEW LEINSTER RUGBY coach Matt O’Connor has called on Ian Madigan to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Sexton by becoming the all-round out-half the province will need to challenge on two fronts.

The Australian was speaking in Leinster’s UCD base today in his first official outing as head coach of the RaboDirect Pro12 and Amlin Challenge Cup holders. And, shortly after the former Brumbies centre had gotten his sizable legs under the top table, the void left by the Ireland and Lions number 10′s flight to Paris was put to him.

With Sexton injured for much of the second half of Leinster’s season, Madigan – who O’Connor calls “very, very good player at Heineken Cup level” – enjoyed an impressive run and finished the campaign as an international and the Pro12′s most efficient goal-kicker.

Yet his assurance off the kicking tee was not always matched in terms of controlling tight games with the ball in hand and O’Connor highlighted the need for the Blackrock playmaker to constantly improve in order to avoid the dreaded second season syndrome.

“That’s the challenge for Ian,” O’Connor said when asked if he could build his backline around Madigan.

“He has been in the group for a long time. He hasn’t played a lot of rugby in the 10 shirt for Leinster because Jonny’s been here and done such a fantastic job. But if we think back four or five years: who was Jonny Sexton?

“He was second fiddle to a foreigner. He was not playing a lot of rugby and when he took his opportunity he went from strength to strength.

“[Madigan] has certainly showed he has the temperament and the ability to do that. Now he has to back that up second season, third season and continue on.”

The next big thing

The new head coach also pointed out the value of having experienced Kiwi out-half Jimmy Gopperth in the ranks. The ex-Newcastle Falcon, O’Connor says, could be used as more than a mere back-up for Madigan when a more measured approach and experienced head is called for.

“Jimmy Gopperth is a very very good professional who has been around the traps, who knows the game and who will step in there and do a job for us as well.

“So, it’s different ‘post-Jonny’. It’s different ‘post-Isa’, but at the end of the day, those blokes in the group will get the opportunity to be the next big thing.”

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Sean Farrell

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