Madigan was expected to slot straight in for the now Racing Metro 10 but has had to stew on the bench for most of the province’s crunch games with Kiwi Jimmy Gopperth handed the keys instead.
It’s made for a frustrating season for the Irishman who exploded into the mainstream last year and his coach agreed the musical chairs has been detrimental, even if they contest a PRO12 final against Glasgow Warriors at the RDS this weekend.
“A little bit, yeah, and, historically, I wouldn’t have favoured that approach. I would like to pick a nine and ten and they are your blokes but every circumstance is different. Ian needs to play more at the front end of games to develop those skills he hasn’t had exposure to over the last two or three seasons.
“It is a case of trying to manage that. Jimmy came in to the environment and has been very good for us and has delivered in that role also. Everybody in the squad has managed it well. If we haven’t been top-end every week well then that is the heat we will take but it’s not going to be factor Saturday.”
Yet the club undeniably finds itself in a good place this week. Only Dave Kearney, Richardt Strauss and Luke Fitzgerald are all absent through injury. Always affable, the Australian coach presided over a laid back camp yesterday. Players lounged about in the sunshine after training and t-shirts, cargo shorts and flip-flops were the order of the day after a morning training session.
Yet the focus remains as hardened as ever. Leinster haven’t ended a season without a trophy since 2010 and failure to claim league honours would feed into talk of transition while putting pressure on O’Connor a year into his contract. “I don’t think there’s any personal attachment to it,” he said.
Ask most Leinster players about the importance of winning trophies and they will redirect you towards concepts of culture, daily graft, honesty and integrity. That’s all fair enough, but Rob Kearney got straight to the point.
Leinster lost key players and will lose more after the weekend in Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen and the perception is of a side that is the wrong side of its peak. An empty trophy cabinet would only confirm that.
“This year it’s even more important, because there has been a lot of change. Our performances have dipped a hugely and it’s a sign of a good team if you are poor throughout a season and can come away with a trophy.”
Glasgow approach the fixture from the flip side. A team that has nudged its way towards the summit in recent years, this is their first final and a defeat of Leinster at the RDS would mark a quantum leap in their fortunes.
“They’re probably the form side in the tournament,” said Kearney. “We were pretty lucky to beat them last year in the semi-final. I just think they’re better (now). Their coaching staff looks better, they’re much more direct – they seem to play for each other a lot. Their defence is strong and, when they get into the opposition 22, they come away with points.”