Richie Murphy has worked alongside both Jonathan Sexton and Madigan with Leinster and is doing so again as Ireland prepare for the Six Nations in his role as Joe Schmidt’s skills and kicking coach.
Murphy has long voiced the virtues of Madigan as a place-kicker, one who has upped his game significantly in that department in recent years, but who missed four of his seven efforts on goal at the Ricoh Arena four days ago.
Those misses almost cost Leinster as they hung on to claim a 20-20 draw and a home quarter-final berth in the Champions Cup. A repeat in the Stadio Olimpico could be even more damaging.
“He was obviously very disappointed,” said Murphy. “It’s one of those things that happen. If you look at him over the course of two years, or even three years, he hasn’t missed that amount of kicks in a game.
“The first one he hit was an excellent kick (from the sideline) and then two that he missed were pretty poor kicks by his standards. The other two were actually quite good kicks but they were missed on the other side.
“We would talk a lot about refocusing in after a miss, on getting technically right and focusing on your pre-kick routine and stuff like that. He’s disappointed but I’d back him to bounce back very quickly from that.”
Of possibly greater concern is Madigan’s lack of game time at 10, given Sexton’s continued unavailability through to the middle of February.
After a handful of appearances as Leinster’s out-half at the turn of the year, Madigan returned to the inside-centre slot for the recent European fixtures with Jimmy Gopperth preferred again at 10. The consensus is that Madigan will be afforded some much-needed practice in his preferred position on Friday when the Wolfhounds and Saxons clash in Cork, even if the possibility of him being injured is a risk. But a risk worth taking.
“I think he’d probably enjoy that, getting back in to kick again, and try to get rid of what happened. There is going to be a big spotlight on him, in that area, but once he goes back and refocuses in on the key points he needs to deliver, he’ll be fine.”
The ifs and buts at out-half aren’t the only imponderables facing Schmidt now. Yesterday’s bulletins on Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan were optimistic but it is not certain that either will be fit for Italy.
Were that to be the case, Ireland would travel without either of their first-choice half-backs and, indeed, without what is probably the best half-back combination in the northern hemisphere this past few years.
“It’s an issue because of the fact you might be going into your first game without the two half-backs who played there last year, but an issue which would give other guys an opportunity as well.
“Ian Keatley has been playing very well for Munster over the last while. Then, obviously, Kieran Marmion and Isaac Boss in cameos and when he’s started for Leinster has been very good.”
Whatever the fitness or otherwise of Ireland’s various half-backs, the fact is that Schmidt will likely be leaning on scrum-halves and out-halves just back from injury and/or short on game time in such pivotal positions.
“Italy is going to be a massive challenge,” said Murphy. “It would be a pretty difficult place to go. They always seem to do well in those early rounds and you would like to be going over there with what you perceive to be your best team. But it gives other players an opportunity; it will give us an opportunity to look at those other guys. They are all good players and we’d be very confident whoever has to step in will be able to do it.”
Madigan was last night one of two Leinster men and, indeed, Pro12 players — on the longlist for the 2014/15 European player of the year award. Jamie Heaslip is the other.
Full list of nominations: N Abendanon, F Lee, A Rougerie and C Lopez (all Clermont Auvergne); J Imhoff, D Szarzewski and J Roberts (all Racing Metro 92); S Armitage and N Sanchez (both Toulon); C Ashton and B Vunipola (both Saracens); I Madigan and J Heaslip (both Leinster); J Joseph (Bath) and G North (Northampton Saints).