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Schmidt backs Madigan in vital tie

Ian Madigan has "no experience at the level" of Ireland's RBS 6 Nations title decider against France at fly-half but can still handle the pressure, according to Joe Schmidt.

Leinster playmaker Madigan will understudy Johnny Sexton in Paris on Saturday as Ireland chase their first Six Nations title since the 2009 Grand Slam.

Madigan is primed for his first Six Nations appearance of the season, and could come off the bench in the pivotal stages as Ireland battle for just their third win in Paris since 1972.

Ireland head coach Schmidt said seven-cap Madigan will cover fly-half, centre and full-back from the bench in Brian O'Driscoll's 141st and final Test appearance.

"He's had a bit of time at 10 with us, definitely not at this level, but those experiences will help him, and it just gives us a little bit more coverage on the bench," said Schmidt.

"He can be a threat to the line, he's started at 10 in the tour last summer, both in the United States and in Canada.

"In Italy last year in the Six Nations he came on and sparked the game up a little bit."

Fit-again Peter O'Mahony is the sole change to the starting line-up from Ireland's 46-7 hammering of Italy in Dublin last weekend.

Iain Henderson drops to the bench, to cover lock and back row, with Jordi Murphy retaining a replacements role and Rhys Ruddock dropping out of the squad.

Ulster's Paddy Jackson has deputised for Racing Metro fly-half Sexton throughout the Six Nations so far, but misses out for the Stade de France showdown.

Madigan could find himself thrust into Ireland's highest-pressure Six Nations situation since their 2009 Grand Slam decider against Wales in Cardiff, if he joins the fray in the closing stages.

The 24-year-old has only 11 Leinster starts to his name this term too, sharing duties with Kiwi playmaker Jimmy Gopperth.

Now head coach Schmidt has backed the Leinster outside-half to shoulder a hefty burden, as Ireland chase just their third win in 42 years in Paris.

"Sometimes you make those replacements because of injury and sometimes to change up what you're doing," said Schmidt.

"I feel confident Ian's the right man to do those two things for us within the current squad.

"He played through the autumn and he has trained with us for the full eight weeks throughout this tournament.

"If you can't show confidence in a player then perhaps you've got to go outside the squad, and that's not ideal either.

"Ian is a very good player and he does give us coverage through the midfield and at full-back.

"It's been a pretty combative campaign, we just started to creak a little bit, so we just needed the coverage.

"In England we got a couple of niggles, and we didn't have as broad a coverage on the bench as we would have liked.

"If Johnny (Sexton) had been injured Paddy (Jackson) would have started."

Munster skipper O'Mahony has emerged as one of the players of the tournament, and will win his 23rd cap in Paris.

Ireland boss Schmidt backed the 24-year-old to combat France's brutal tight-game physicality, especially at the breakdown.

The French have selected six forwards and just two backs on their bench for Saturday night's clash, and Schmidt admitted O'Mahony's tenacity will be crucial.

"No disrespect to Iain Henderson, he's still learning at the level and it was a great experience for him last weekend," said Schmidt.

"But Peter's already relatively proficient at the level, and he's played really well for us prior to last weekend.

"So he will bring that threat around the breakdown, the physicality that he expresses on the field, so it's great to have him back."


From Belfast Telegraph