It’s almost ten days on, but the sense of relief has yet to flush fully from Ian Madigan’s system though his attention has long turned towards the Champions Cup quarter-final with Bath.
With 79 minutes played at Murrayfield two weekends ago, Madigan sent a penalty wide left of the Scottish posts.
It was a miss that tormented him and could have cost Ireland dearly on a day of running rugby and running arithmetic.
The wait for absolution as England took on France was interminable and even the six successful kicks from six he claimed against Glasgow last Friday didn’t bring closure.
Thing is, he fully expected to kick that stray in Edinburgh, even with Murrayfield’s funny wind. He stood behind Jonathan Sexton earlier as the starting ten kicked one of his two misses wide right from the same spot.
Lesson learned, he thought. Not so. That wind dropped just as he launched and the ball veered just left to mark the beginning of what he called “a hellish two hours”.
Sexton was quick to offer solidarity, pointing out that the winning and losing of the tournament would not rest on one kick and that, in the event of England pulling through, the two out-halves would face the post-mortem together.
“It kind a calmed me down a bit but we were lucky,” he said.
Madigan’s emotions toyed with him as England edged closer, at one point he hoped that England would win by four points so he wouldn’t be “the complete fall guy”, but Rory Kockott’s clearing kick was the cue for him and Sexton to embrace.
“The most relieved I’ve ever been,” he admitted.
“The pair will be close again next season when Sexton returns to Leinster from Racing Metro in a move that once again asks questions of where Madigan fits into the firmament after two seasons spent migrating between ten and 12.
He’s not naïve, he explained. Sexton will not be left on the bench, which means he has to look elsewhere for gainful employment and that means inside centre where he claims to have put in his most enjoyable season yet.
That’s a notable claim given his breakthrough stint at ten with Leinster at the back end of the 12/13 season, but he knows that his versatility will stand to him, not least when Joe Schmidt picks his World Cup squad.
Still, it seems a shame that a man of his talents must be squeezed into the jigsaw somewhere beyond his natural environment, though he has no intention of aping JJ Hanrahan in seeking a foreign field in which to play his preferred role.
“I’m with Leinster now, I signed a three-year deal and made it clear that this is where I want to be playing my rugby and what’s most important for me is that I’m starting consistently for my province. That has you in the window nationally. I think if I was subbing at out-half and coming on in a cameo role, I don’t think it would be as advantageous as it would be to be starting in another position.”
There are sound reasons for staying. Leinster may not be at the level of a few years ago, and are even in danger of missing out on the PRO12 play-offs, but they are the sole Irish or Celtic League representative still standing in the Champions Cup.
In Bath this Saturday they face a side that looks a lot like Leinster did on their upswing maybe six or seven years ago: one that plays a pleasing brand of rugby but that is seeking to ally it with a winning mentality and formula.
In George Ford they possess England’s out-half though, like Madigan, he has his doubters.
Ford tends to concentrate on his slight physique, but Madigan shrugs off such negativity regardless of the intended target.
“That’s the sport we’re in. It’s a professional sport and you’re going to be assessed on everything you’re good at and everything you’re bad at.
“A big part of it is finding out a player’s negatives and exploiting it. That’s Matt (O’Connor’s) job and that’s what we’ll be looking to do at the weekend.”
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