Keep your eyes on… Ian Madigan

The Irish Wolfhounds play England Saxons in late January in a game that should give Deccie a chance to look at a few up-and-coming options.  Who he picks to play fly-half will be of particular interest.  Wolfhounds fly-half may sound inconsequential, but with Radge moving towards retirement, Deccie will most likely be looking to groom someone he feels can back up, and challenge Jonny Sexton in the near future.

The choice would appear to come down to three Ians – Humphreys, Keatley and Madigan.  Humphreys has been the traditional choice for these games, and is the only one of the three that is first-choice at his province – but he’s now pushing 30 and management have made it clear that they believe his frailties are sufficient to ensure he won’t be making the step up to test level.  It’s time to move on.

That leaves us with Keatley and Madigan –  or Ewan Ma-dee-gan, as he will always be known to some.  Keatley has already played for Ireland and has a wealth of Pro12 experience with Connacht, but Madigan’s career graph is moving consistently upwards, and continued to do so on Friday night when he bagged another try and looked assured for most of Leinster’s rout of Cardiff.  Keatley, meanwhile, had the proverbial stinker in Munster’s pretty rank defeat to Ospreys.

Along with Devin Toner, Madigan is the most improved player in the Leinster squad.  Last season, most Leinster fans would have regarded McKinley as the more promising of the province’s two academy graduate out-halves, but Madigan has impressed hugely this term.  It is no exaggeration to say he is the best passer of a ball in the country, and his eye for a break, and pace to go with it, has seen him score four tries in six starts and four sub appearances so far.  A decidedly atypical Irish pivot, he plays more in the mould of an Aussie first-five, or a French 9-cum-10.

There’s still work to do.  Game management is an issue, with too many loose kicks and missed touchfinders (although he has got a big boot), and while this should improve with experience, it remains to be seen if he has ‘the mental’ to dictate a game in the manner that Jonny Sexton and Radge can.  The game is littered with talented out-halves who never learn this art – think of Shane Geraghty, Ryan Lamb or even James Hook.  His place-kicking has yet to be tested at Pro12 level, and we’re unlikely to see it for a while, given McFadden’s form with placed ball.  On Friday, well though Madigan played, Jonny’s cameo showed him where he has to get to – could Madigan have executed the deft cross-field chip for Dave Kearney, or the 75m gain from the penalty in his own 22?  The jury is still out, but with distribution skills to die for, this is one diamond that’s starting to polish up nicely.

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting take on Madigan. I'm also very excited about his form this season. He is so different to any other fly half Ireland have at the moment and I think if he continues on his upward curve he could be a real assest to Leinster and Ireland. Lets hope Schmidt continues to back him and give him some chances to make his mark in the PRO12 this season to give him a possibility of the 3rd out half spot on the summer tour.

  2. Hi JSRF – yep, it's great and rare to see an Irish fly-half with such handling and passing skills. He seems to be able to put the ball where he wishes, and with speed. The big tests will come in difficult trips to Wales and Scotland in midwinter, when you've to play a bit of territory and not always on the front foot, but there's no doubting he's an exciting talent, someone who's also great to watch. There's a school of thought that wants to see him play at scrumhalf, given his pass, but I say let him learn one position for the time being. Definitely worth a look for the Wolfhounds for my money.

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