Madigan has what it takes
Brian O'Driscoll is full of praise for Ian Madigan, his likely centre partner in today's RaboPro12 final against Ulster at the RDS.
Leinster's player of the year has been filling the void at inside centre in Gordon D'Arcy's absence in recent weeks and while O'Driscoll does point out that his young apprentice still has much to learn he is enthused by his progression.
O'Driscoll certainly reckoned that two areas where Madigan has shown plenty of quality is in his match temperment and spacial awareness.
"The good thing about Ian is he doesn't lack confidence. It is one of his real strengths," said O'Driscoll.
"He's definitely at a learning curve at 12 but he brings very good awareness to the position and can see things from 10 that helps him.
"He is strong and brings lots of things to the game. "He's shown this year that he's capable of being a game changer. He just gets the simple things done. Jonny will pull the strings if he is at 10 and Ian is at 12.
"Both of his international caps have come at 12. That's the kind of talent he is."
Madigan was an unused replacement in last year's final when Leinster lost by a point to Ospreys. The enduring image from that final was that of O'Driscoll sinking to his knees and burying his head in the RDS grass in despair.
Leinster had won their third Heineken Cup title the previous weekend – their second in a row – but that defeat to Ospreys was their third League final loss in a row.
It's a damning record and one that O'Driscoll admits does eat at him.
"I wouldn't say it stayed with me for the year or that it haunts me but I look back on it definitely as one that got away," said O'Driscoll.
Leinster uncharacteristically blew an eight point lead in the last 10 minutes of that final. Four final losses in a row is unconscionable for O'Driscoll.
"That loss took a shine off the Heineken Cup victory last year," he said. "This year we haven't won a Heineken Cup but we have won an Amlin and we do want to win a double and are desperate to make sure it's not four in a row."
The extent of the challenge facing Leinster this weekend can be measured by the quality of one of the players O'Driscoll will be in direct opposition to – Stuart Olding.
The 20-year-old has just a handful of caps for Ulster and was third choice inside centre behind Paddy Wallace and Luke Marshall at the start of the season but he has been magnificent for Ulster in their absences and will certainly cause Leinster headaches tomorrow evening.
"He seems to have a very well rounded game," acknowledged O'Driscoll. "For the weekend it'll be about trying to impose ourselves on him and giving him something to think about rather than giving too much respect and standing off people.
"He's really stepped up to the plate and he's got an opportunity going on the (Ireland) summer tour as well and with a number of injuries in the centre he's got every chance of getting capped."
The threats from Ulster will not come just from the centre. O'Driscoll was also generous in his praise for some of Ulster's stand-out performers this season, not least his Ireland team-mate Paddy Jackson who has put the experience of last year's Heineken Cup final defeat behind him.
"Paddy is a really nice footballer. He's probably someone you can't leave a lot of time and space to because he's capable of cutting defences open.
"He's a threat himself, physically he might not be huge but he's a smart footballer, he reads the game well and he and Ruan (Pienaar) have a very good half-back partnership and work really well for Ulster.
"Jared Payne has been excellent at 15 for them, Nick Williams has been a revelation and Trimbs (Andrew Trimble) has been excellent for them this year.
"You can't imagine a more deserving team to be in the final than themselves and we're looking forward to going up against them," he added.