Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Madigan magic just what Ireland require at No.10

Ian Madigan is ready to step into Ronan O'Gara's boots
Ian Madigan is ready to step into Ronan O'Gara's boots

Ian Madigan produced a tour de force at the RDS against Glasgow Warriors last Saturday, although it must be said that one swallow never made a summer.

What I will say, however, is that an out-half of extraordinary potential came to the fore with a match-winning performance against a top-class team.

This sort of performance has been coming for some time from Madigan. Whenever he has stepped into Jonny Sexton's boots, he has done so with genuine conviction.

In the early days of professionalism 'first receiver' became one of the many buzz terms repeatedly trotted out. So much so that having multiple first receivers began to supplant the need for one dominant out-half in the minds of some.

It was a road to nowhere that was quickly abandoned. In the modern game, everybody is a potential first receiver, but everyone in the team knows who the one and only true first receiver is.

For Leinster, the definitive first receiver has long been Sexton, but now, with the Ireland and soon to be Lions No 10 moving to France, Madigan is set to become that playmaker and game-manager.

At this point, I beg permission for a little self-indulgence. As a player I had my critics, but never could I be accused of not admitting to my faults.

None of us is perfect, but I never lacked the moral courage to always give it a go. Irrespective of the pre-conceived play, I would react as the situation arose. These days, they call it 'heads-up rugby'.

So when Madigan did what he did in the in-goal area in the second half and outlandishly chipped the ball over the fast-closing Glasgow defence, I got a shiver up my spine.

It could have resulted in seven points the other way, but it didn't because Madigan believed in what he was doing in the heat of the moment, he had the wherewithal and conviction to give it a shot and on this occasion he got the bounce of the ball he deserved.

Was it conventional? No. Were Joe Schmidt and Jono Gibbes apoplectic? Probably. Will he do it again? I sincerely hope so.

It broke every rule in the robotic, pre-rehearsed book, but hey, it worked a treat.

In that moment of magic, Madigan demonstrated the spark of invention that makes him different.

It should make him the full-time successor to Sexton in the Leinster pivotal position and hopefully will now see him travel to the US and Canada at the very least level with Paddy Jackson as the Ireland out-half to start on that tour, irrespective of who is the head coach.

Humdinger

Madigan is still a long way from being the complete string-pulling out-half that Sexton now is, but what he has over and above the ordinary is the courage, conviction and ability to attack flat and step at pace through any gap or slowness in the opposition defence.

That ability must not be inhibited. What he must add to his game is the tactical nous off the boot that Sexton and, more particularly, Ronan O'Gara, possess.

That can be achieved through patience, practice and, more than anything, big-match experience in the position.

Saturday's contrasting performances from Jackson at Murrayfield and Madigan in Ballsbridge could be the final nail in Declan Kidney's coffin.

Jackson still has much to offer at the highest level, but right now Madigan, despite his shortcomings, is substantially ahead in the race to fill O'Gara's shoes as replacement cover to Sexton for Ireland.

A top-quality outside-half came of age in D4 last Saturday.

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