Another week, another new assignment for Ian Madigan.
Before yesterday, the 25-year old had featured at 10, 12 and 15 for Leinster. Last week brought his first taste of life off the bench this season when he managed nine minutes against South Africa. Yesterday brought with it a start for his country at out-half.
It’s a peripatetic lifestyle for any rugby player and it’s not by choice. It never is. Though he describes himself as an ‘employee’, and one who will work where and when he is told, he admits that his perfect number is ten.
“Look, you don’t just arrive in on the Monday at Carton House and write your name into the team sheet,” he explained when asked for the umpteenth time about his varied life across the back line. “If you could I’d be in early and put my name in at No. 10.
“I’m just looking to work closely with Matt (O’Connor at Leinster) and Joe (Schmidt) to manage the areas of the game that are close to our line, getting the exits right. I feel if I keep doing that and keep working hard as a player that the selections will follow.”
Madigan’s lack of game time in his favoured surrounds with the province has been a bone of contention for many Leinster fans this last two seasons and a significant injury list in recent months has seen him utilised away from that hub even more than before.
With Jonathan Sexton firmly cemented into the seat at international level – and soon to return to Leinster — opportunities like this are few and far between even if the wholesale changes made by Schmidt to his team and squad in general can’t have helped.
Madigan, to his credit, didn’t use that as a crutch.
“Parts of it are difficult when you’re coming in with new guys. But then you go into the sub-units: Dave Foley calling the lineouts, Eoin (Reddan) inside me at scrum-half, and making sure everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet in the back-line. You can get things right that way.
“You probably have to do a bit more work behind the scenes, outside of training. I was lucky. I had Gordon (D’Arcy) outside me with whom I’ve played plenty of times with Leinster, and Eoin inside me, a player who I really look up to and someone who’s mentored me at Leinster.”
That honesty extends to his initial assessment of his own performance. Ireland were too frantic at times and lacked a ruthlessness, he said. There were more reasons than one for that but, as the team’s conductor, it was Madigan calling the tune.
That he stayed at ten for the 80 minutes was being interpreted by some as significant last night. Paddy Jackson has not gone away, but so his injury worries will, while Ian Keatley appeared for Ireland for the first time in five years.
The role of Sexton’s first lieutenant remains a contested one.
Still, Madigan’s opportunity is to be welcomed given the disparity in big-time experience in the role between Sexton and his would-be competitors for the jersey. Likewise the chance to run the rule over others for whom this game was more than just a filler.
“There were some positives, especially at the start of the second-half when we came out with some real energy,” said Madigan. “The maul was excellent, in fairness to the pack. It was definitely one of the positives. One of the work-ons for us was, in the first-half, when we got into their 22, we weren’t positive enough.
“We did well to get there but, once we did, our rucking wasn’t accurate enough and I don’t think we chose the right plays at times.
“It was certainly positive for us to correct that at half-time and get it right in the second-half. We have to be more clinical in their 22.”
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