MATT O’CONNOR WILL have been delighted with the performance of Ian Madigan at out-half for Leinster on Friday night against the Cardiff Blues.
The 24-year-old scored a try, slotted all six of his efforts at goal and generally looked very confident. More impressive than the scoring was the manner in which the Ireland international directed his team around the pitch. There were quick taps, long passes and solid tackles, with Madigan deservedly named man of the match.
Jimmy Gopperth has enjoyed a strong start to life at Leinster, and that put a degree of pressure on his younger rivals’ shoulders coming into Friday night’s game. Madigan responded well, although it must be pointed out that his first start at out-half came in a team that was far stronger than those Gopperth played in.
The returns of Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip were excellent, and Madigan certainly benefited from their input. O’Driscoll was on the end of many plaudits post-match and his display was “sublime” according to O’Connor. However, it should be pointed out that many of the legendary centre’s best attacking forays were facilitated by Madigan’s superb distribution.
It was encouraging to see the out-half among the try-scorers, and he looks to have retained the clinical finishing ability that has allowed him to score 19 tries for Leinster in 84 appearances. Defensively, Madigan was robust and willing to put his body in the way of Cardiff’s ball carriers.
When he is on form, Madigan’s passing adds another dimension to Leinster’s attack. While Gopperth has displayed the ability to move the ball into wide channels, his passing lacks the edge that Madigan showed on Friday night. The power and accuracy Madigan generates is exciting to watch, and must be a joy to play off. His vision allows him to create line-breaks for his backs, guiding them into holes in the opposition defence. It’s a difficult skill, and speaks volumes of Madigan’s vision.
We must temper the praise by highlighting that the Blues were defensively weak on occasion, and Madigan will certainly get less time on the ball against better opposition. If he is picked against Munster next weekend, he will come under fierce pressure from whatever back row Rob Penney selects.
Matt O’Connor has a welcome selection headache in the number 10 jersey now that Gopperth and Madigan have both played their best hands. Based on Friday night’s display, Madigan looks the better option.
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Speaking after the Blues game, O’Connor explained that he feels Madigan is still learning.
“I think he’s developing all the time. Every time he trains, every time he plays for us, he will get better because he’s on that development curve. He’s a young guy who hasn’t played that much front-line footy. He’s a good footballer and a very hard worker in the environment. It was a good performance from him.”
Asked if Madigan had pushed ahead in the race to start against Munster, O’Connor gave little away.
“He knows that he and Jimmy will be integral to the 10 shirt throughout the season and they’re both really good guys who are more that happy to put the team first, put their own egos aside if that’s the situation. Someone will be disappointed for the really big games, but they’re both really important guys.”