Madigan hails Saints’ defence but bemoans Leinster breakdown physicality

Close to an hour had passed by the time Ian Madigan was delivered into the media’s maw with the unenviable job of translating the mental anguish and bitter disappointment of the Leinster squad into words.

The beads of sweat that glistened on the out-half’s forehead were testament to the energy expended at this level and yet there was recognition that Leinster didn’t do quite enough.

They may have enjoyed 57% territory and possession but it was Northampton who set the agenda with their cleverly structured game plan and a ruggedness at the breakdown that the home team could never quite match.

Fair cop, said Madigan.

“No, I don’t think we brought maximum physicality to the breakdown. The penalty count at the breakdown would have shown that and the fact we didn’t get quick ruck ball showed we certainly weren’t accurate enough at the ruck.”

Madigan shrugged off the suggestion that sides would scan the DVD and discern the key to unlocking victory against Leinster was to slow them down at breakdown and stop their ball carriers.

Knowing that and doing it are not one and the same, of course.

Missing Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy — two of the team’s most penetrative spearheads — hardly helped but Madigan refused the excuse offered by Northampton coach Jim Mallinder the week before.

Whatever the personnel, no side can hope to dominate those sectors week after week.

A plethora of poor passes and an inability to stamp their pattern and structure on the game will irritate every bit as much this week.

“In fairness to Northampton, they changed the way they defended,” said Madigan.

“They set wider and they came square and it took us a while to adjust to that.

“In fairness, they defended very well and it was different to last week.”

The hand-wringing will continue today when the side conducts its regular Monday video review.

But it says much about Leinster that they tend to be there or thereabouts at the end even in those games where they are not hitting their straps.

A bonus point was rescued this time last year against Clermont Auvergne on a night when the French side was the better by a considerable distance and victory was still in the home team’s grasp until the very, bitter, end on Saturday.

Like Munster earlier in the afternoon, and New Zealand on the same patch of D4 real estate late last month, Leinster could well have snatched a win in injury-time but for Jamie Heaslip’s handling error a few metres from the line .

“It would have been nice to have been on the right side of a last-minute try but, ah, it is something we practise a lot in training,” said Madigan, “holding and retaining the ball in the opponents’ 22 and grinding them down and create an overlap or barge over.

“We are disappointed we didn’t get over but it is something we will learn from.”

You would expect nothing less and yet the damage from this defeat is already calculable as Matt O’Connor’s side has the lowest points tally of any of the six pool leaders approaching the last two rounds in January.

“You want to end up as number one seeds and get the eighth team, especially as you know that’s the easiest [route], but unfortunately we gave that up.

“But the target is still a home quarter-final and that’s attainable.”


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