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'He's big time, isn't he? Anybody who knows Mads knows he is big time'

Ian Madigan was the match winner for Dan McFarland’s Ulster over in Murrayfield.

MORE THAN FOUR years after leaving Leinster, Ian Madigan showed ice-cold composure to send Ulster into a Pro14 final against his native province.

The 31-year-old was part of a hugely impactful performance from Ulster’s bench in their 22-19 semi-final win over Edinburgh and showed that his place-kicking class remains undiminished as he nailed a conversion from the right-hand touchline and then stepped up to grab the win with the last kick of the game.

42 metres out, he looked calm as he approached his winning penalty and cleared the crossbar to spark celebrations, clinching Ulster’s spot in the final next Saturday against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

Mads

Having brought him back to Irish rugby after one season in Bordeaux and then three years with Bristol, Ulster head coach Dan McFarland was thrilled with Madigan’s impact.

“He’s big time, isn’t he? Anybody who knows Mads knows he’s big time,” said McFarland. “I’ve watched him kick goals at the end of games, I’ve watched him make great plays in crucial moments in games. He did a great job.

“It was just one of those things where we needed a bit of impact there, and that’s not taking anything away from Billy [Burns] because he looked pretty good in both games he’s played in, but having that kind of 10 who can come in and make an impact like that in big games is pretty important. We all know that.”

Ulster captain Burns, who made way for Madigan, said he wasn’t surprised by the 30-times capped Ireland international’s big clutch moments.

“I see Mads hit those kicks week in, week out on the training park,” said Burns, who praised the entire Ulster bench.

“He has oozed class since he’s come to the club. He’s almost been a mentor to a lot of us. He has obviously played a lot of big games and I’m sure that’s not the first time he’s done that.

“There’s definitely worse people to be stepping up to that kick and as soon as I saw Mads step up for it, I was pretty confident. It was a huge moment from him and credit to him, he deserved it.”

McFarland, who is a keen student of psychology, was thrilled with the resilience his team showed to come back from 12-0 and then 19-7 down to claim their last-gasp win.

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He underlined that they will need to be much better next weekend, but also highlighted how tough a challenge Richard Cockerill’s side had posed.

alan-oconnor-and-jack-mcgrath-celebrate-with-ian-madgidan-after-he-converts-a-last-minute-penalty-to-win-the-game Ulster celebrate Madigan's winning kick. Source: Ian Rutherford/INPHO

“The mental challenge of winning away in a semi-final is huge,” said McFarland. “It’s absolutely huge. The bookies had Edinburgh at -6. It’s pretty decisive. Scarlets are the only team that have won away from home in a semi-final and we talked all week about the fact that if we wanted to win this game, nothing would be given to us, only taken.

“If we were going to win, we had to take it, and we had to approach the game in the sense that it had to be us that went out and won it. And sure enough, in that first half Edinburgh gave us nothing. We went at them, we obviously have good ball-carriers in certain areas of the park, they took us on there.

“We have a good maul at the moment, they took us on there. These are areas of the game we hoped would work but they didn’t. We couldn’t grasp hold of it. It was only in the second half when we added a little bit of an extra dimension to our attack and made a couple of extra tweaks around what we were doing at maul time that we were able to get some success.”

With Ulster into their first final since the 2013 Pro12 decider, which Leinster won, they are well aware of the even bigger task ahead.

Leo Cullen’s Leinster will be aiming for a 25th consecutive victory at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday and while Ulster are buoyed by their comeback win, they’re keeping level heads.

“It was a huge effort but we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground because nobody remembers semi-final winners,” said Burns. “We’ve got to go on and back it up next week.

“It does give us confidence but we also know it’s going to be another step up next week. We can’t afford to start as slowly as we did. We had plenty of opportunities in the first half but we didn’t execute and we know that coming up against a team like Leinster, those opportunities are going to be few and far between.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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