Testing Times at Leinster

Last week, it felt like the gloom around Leinster rugby was never going to lift.  It’s been a harrowing few weeks for Leinster fans, who have had to watch on as Johnny Sexton has signed for Racing Metro, before most of the first choice backline got wiped out in the Six Nations.  The latest setback was Isa Nacewa announcing that he is set to retire from the game at the end of the year, and return to Auckland.  Suffice to say, Nacewa has been hugely important and frequently outstanding for Leinster, performing two key roles; one as a key player in their Heineken Cup team, and the other as a vital leader of the backline of the often youthful Pro12 team when the big boys are off in Carton House.

With Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr leaving at the end of the season, and Luke Fitzgerald’s injury liable to carry over into next autumn, Leinster are suddenly short of numbers in the back three.  There’s Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney and utility man Fergus McFadden; after that it’s a steep drop off to the likes of Darren Hudson among others, who are still in the academy.  It looks like Leinster will be given licence to sign a high profile replacement for Nacewa, and the guessing games have already begun as to who that will be, but notwithstanding that at least one younger player is going to have to make a step up to Pro12 level regular.

We recently posted outlining a number of younger Leinster players who have been knocking on the door over the last couple of seasons, and must now kick it down.  One was Dave Kearney who is liable to be the biggest beneficiary of Nacewa’s departure.  He’s had a mixed, injury afflicted season, but is set to be a first team regular for at least the rest of the season and must make the most of his opportunity.  He is a good footballer with much to commend him, but suffers a trait seemingly shared by Leinster back three players of late: he doesn’t score many tries.  For all Leinster’s potency in attack, they lack a real chalk-sniffing try-machine in the mould of Simon Zebo.  While Nacewa’s all-round game was marvellous, Leinster need not replace like with like, and might be wiser looking to bring in something they don’t really have; a wide man with out and out finisher’s pace.  It surely couldn’t hurt.

One knock-on effect of the accumulation of departures in the back division is likely to be a pleading with O’Driscoll, and perhaps Cullen, to stick around for one more year, in order to execute a smooth handover to the likes of Eoin O’Malley and Devin Toner as much as anything else.  Indeed, if next season has a look of being marked down in the press as – hate this word – “transitional”, it should at least make for interesting watching, with Ian ‘The Hair’ Madigan taking his bow as The Man at fly-half.  His rich seam of form could not have been better timed, coming just in the wake of the announcement of Sexton’s departure, and he gave another showcase of his outstanding line-running abilities on Saturday night, again making a mockery of Kidney’s determination to omit him from selection for Ireland.

The game was a battle for the top spot in the league, and as a result could have serious consequences, which gave it an intensity far above most Pro12 turkey-shoots at the RDS.  Madigan thrived in the spotlight, making a number of superb breaks, and one outrageous, and almost certainly foolhardy chip from inside his own tryline, which improbably came off as he regathered and immediately offloaded.  He then conjured up the winning try with a trademark step off his right foot to ghost through the defence.  Dude sure has a touch of the maverick genius about him.  He also nailed six from six with the boot.  He looks like he’s having fun out there.

And then there’s the barnet, and what a strange thing it is too.  But Madigan looks set to be the next darling of the fans and media at Leinster, and we expect to see his profile utilised by the marketing men in Donnybrook.  Perhaps this time next year people will be going to their local barber and asking for ‘a Madigan’.

He looks not so much the heir to Johnny Sexton’s throne as a throwback to the days when Felipe Contepomi played fly-half and you were never sure quite what was going to happen next.  It should be worth buying a season ticket for, but whether he can deliver the sort of assured performances on the road which have elevated Sexton to the level of best fly-half in Europe will be the acid test for the man.  Best just to buckle up and brace yourself for a white-knuckle ride.

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44 Comments

  1. solidalarry

     /  March 25, 2013

    Interesting times indeed. Still, not looking forward the bedraggled Ulster team heading south to begin a season-defining eight days (speaking, as you did, of Pro12 Dublin turkey shoots).

    While I agree with your point that Leinster could do with a try machine, I’d be interested to hear the views on the possibility of a cut-price Kurtley Beale, plenty of baggage included, if he loses his ARU contract (or Leinster could convince the Oz union that it would be a good move for everyone).

    Obviously it could wrong, but it could also go very, very right.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  March 25, 2013

      Interesting line of thinking. Might as well throw Zac Guilford into the mix then.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 25, 2013

        Guildford would be a good signing though, he’d fill a need. Beale’s a 10/15, we have enough depth there. Off field stuff/personality doesnt imo matter as long as they bring it on fri/sat/sun.

      • solidalarry

         /  March 25, 2013

        I realise that prima facie these are ridiculous suggestions – and it’s probably clear I’m playing a slight bit of Devil’s Advocate – but it’s also a way to get a top class (Guildford) or world class (Beale) talent on the cheap and with the possibility of backing, rather than grudging acceptance, from their own national union.

        From what I’ve read, both these fellas are affected by hangers-on, etc etc, and thus a move to the other side of the globe might genuinely help, as opposed to being last resort desperation.

        It’s a hell of a gamble in either case, but it would provide a better player than you would otherwise be able to attract (not that Leinster don’t have the allure, but simply put there aren’t too many players of this quality full stop).

  2. toro toro

     /  March 25, 2013

    Ooh, Curley Bill could even be persuaded to don a Tarf jersey in memory of his Joey’s days. I like!

    One guy I think is very likely to come in – or rather back – is Niall Morris.

  3. toro toro

     /  March 25, 2013

    I’m… less persuaded that Glug-Glug and Dublin would be a good mix.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  March 25, 2013

      He doesn’t come across as being any wilder than Dougeh did after getting knocked out of WC’07.
      Beale seems to have as much an issue as Guilford does, difference being the societies tolerance to the behavior.
      We have a 10 and a 15. Guilford is a try machine

  4. toro toro

     /  March 25, 2013

    I didn’t know Morris had re-signed, I’m sure he’d be eager to reconsider.

    If Howlett or Beale has ever been arrested in a bar, bloody and naked, and unable to speak, I missed the story…

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  March 25, 2013

      So until another person does the exact same thing as Guilford you can’t possibly categorise them as being similar?

      Beale, Bastareaud, Howlett, Popham, Ferris, Gower among many others, have all had their moments of infamy.

      • toro toro

         /  March 25, 2013

        Yes, that’s what I said. Only identical incidents count.

        Look, this isn’t a guy who occasionally has a bit too much and gets out of control. This is a guy with, by his repeated admission, a very serious medical problem. For him to go through the normal stress of moving to a different continent, allied to separation from the family and support structures which he credits with any chance he has of staying sober, and moving to – of all places – a country with Ireland’s social and collective attitude to alcohol is not just bad business from Leinster’s point of view. It would be an almost suicidally foolish move for Guildford; not just as a rugby player, but as a functioning human being. Would I love to see a player of his abilities in blue? Absolutely. But it’s a categorical non-runner.

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  March 25, 2013

        The start of his problems may well come from his fathers death at the Junior World Cup and the subsequent people he has surrounded himself with. Coming here could break a cycle similar to the way Chris Herren (basketball) did for the year he played for the Denver Nuggets. It could be just what he needs.

        Beale is comparatively just as guilty (he’s still up on assault charges in Oz). He is at a disadvantage to begin with owing to his Aboriginal genetic intolerance to alcohol. He may well have a problem but hasn’t realised it yet.

        All players are going to come with some issue or another. Beale and Guilford have big ones, this does not rule them out, never mind making them a categorical non-runner.

      • toro toro

         /  March 25, 2013

        ” He is at a disadvantage to begin with owing to his Aboriginal genetic intolerance to alcohol.”

        OFFS

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  March 25, 2013

        What’s the problem? People have no issue talking about the Polynesian lads having a genetic advantage with bone density and muscle mass .

      • toro toro

         /  March 25, 2013

        If you don’t know what the problem is, I neither can nor care to explain it to you.

        Here’s a hint, though; people usually say that about Polynesian lads *who they can see are big*.

      • It’s true… That’s the reason alcohol and certain types of petrol are banned in the Aboriginal areas of Aus. Similar to the genetic mutation that affects quite a number of SE Asians… And no that’s not racial stereotyping, but an actual biological fact.

      • toro toro

         /  March 25, 2013

        Jebus, I can see I’m going to have to type this slowly.

        If you explain an observed trait in somebody – such as size – by reference to a common – even a prevalent – genetic marker, that is one thing. SImplistic and naive regarding biological causation, but basically grand. On the other hand, you wouldn’t hear a polynesian name and, without knowing anything further about the person in question, infer that they must be enormous. At least; you might, but it would be idiotic of you to do so.

        If you assign somebody the *presumptive* status of Chronic Alcoholic (“comparatively just as guilty” as Zac Guildford) on the basis of their race or ethnicity, whether or not there’s a genetic predisposition – and this is quite apart from the fact that the causal pathways for alcoholism are much less understood than those for size – well, we have a term for that. It begins with “r”, and ends in “acist asshole”.

        It’s kinda dismaying that this needs to be explained.

      • Amiga500

         /  March 26, 2013

        Cillian didn’t say Beale was an alco based on his race/ethnicity.

        He said Beale was more susceptible to alcoholism due to his genetic heritage.

        It is an observation and given the bulk of medical evidence, a valid one.

        Ignoring the differences between races/ethnicity due to a belief that acknowledging differences can be construed as racism is at best, not helpful.

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  March 26, 2013

        Thanks Ulsterman in Glasgow and Amiga500.

        toro toro, you can infer that I am a “racist asshole” all you want.

        Firstly, Beale has had “incidents” where alcohol was present. Given the context that Leinster would be signing Kurtley Beale “The Asset”, it would be professionally negligent not to thoroughly explore all factors that make up “The Asset’s” physical constitution.
        Beale may not be an Alcoholic but there is a higher chance of him being one over others with a different genetic composition. The fact that he has acted illegally with alcohol on-board would then give you grounds to question this aspect of him.
        Had there been no prior incidents, raising the issue would be a prejudicial stance and one that I’d take issue with.

        Ignoring the fact that inherent differences within the human race exist and that they can be grouped into different “races” is a hyper social sensitivity in political correctness.

        This does not mean one race is better/worse than another, rather that certain races are better/worse than others in certain contexts. Depending on the environment from which their genetic code evolved, this gives them a predisposition to different levels of performance in those environments.

      • Okay fellas, we might leave this debate at that if you don’t mind.

      • toro toro

         /  March 26, 2013

        I will tell my colleagues at the ESRC centre for genomics in society how you have Explained Race To Me. Lunch will be fun.

        Amiga – you’re making just the same error here. It is true that levels of alcoholism are significantly higher among the aboriginal population than among other Australians, and it is true that there seems – seems – to be at least partial genetic causation for that.

        Since no two non-twin individuals share the same genome, it cannot be inferred from that fact that any individual is OT is not

      • toro toro

         /  March 26, 2013

        (posted too soon:)

        … any individual is or is not more likely to have the genetic “disadvantage” in question by don’t of membership in a group where it is more-than-usually statistically prevalent.

        To claim otherwise is bad science, bad statistics, and – yes – bad racism.

      • toro toro

         /  March 26, 2013

        Apologies, WoC – x-posted from my phone, your intervention only just appeared when I opened my desk computer.

  5. Connachtexile

     /  March 25, 2013

    The guy being mentioned in Leinster circles is Willie le Roux of the Cheetahs he’s also not S.A. capped so in 3 years he could be wearing the green of Ireland (if he comes)

  6. As regards Madigan’s chip and catch from behind his own goalline, I’m pretty sure Leinster had a knock-on advantage at the time. That said, I was in a Cork bar doing my damnedest to forget what I’d just seen in Musgrave, so I could be as mistaken as his Grace-Jones-meets-Orphan-Annie haircut.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 25, 2013

      Blasphemy! Madsers hair is a thing of beauty! A shining, wind resistant testament to his DILLIGAF playing style.

    • paddy

       /  March 25, 2013

      Yeah not sure about the knock on advantage and haven’t watche dit back but, that seems to be the general impression of ppl at the game. So really it was the right thing to do.

  7. Just saw as well that Hagan is on the way out.

  8. Not Michael bent

     /  March 25, 2013

    Is there no chance of a little bit of cross-border support from our friends in the North – with Gilroy, Bowe and Trimble all in place, surely they could send someone south.
    Doubt it greatly given Bowe’s recent injury troubles, Trimble’s new contract and Gilroy’s being a great marketing tool.

    Not buying the Willie Le Roux rumours – he’s far to close to making the Boks to come up here. So I’d like to start my own Gio Aplon rumours, would certainly be exciting anyway.

    And to complete the random musings, I’m delighted to see Hagan off to London Irish – nothing against him at all, but he seems to have gotten stuck in neutral, so the change of scenery could do him good.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  March 25, 2013

      You’re sure you’re NOT Michael Bent?

  9. Mary Hinge

     /  March 26, 2013

    And Dominic Ryan on his way Wesht apparently…………………………

    • That better not be true. He is the heir apparent to Jennings. Clearly amazing talent at openside and just lacking the knuckle-down. With all respect to Connacht, what could he do there to improve his career trajectory?

      What is behind this exodus? It can’t be a coincidence that all these guys are leaving.

      • solidalarry

         /  March 26, 2013

        That’s interesting news.

        @Curates Egg – game time is behind all these moves. First team game time. Leinster’s back row next year will (still) be McLaughlin, O’Brien, Heaslip; Jennings isn’t due to retire, unless I’ve missed something? Then you’ve got Ruddock and Murphy and on and on…

        Dominic Ryan has as much ability as any of them and will get to start most games for Connacht. At this stage, as an outsider, I’d have to say that looks like a good move for him.

        Another way to think about it is in reverse: look at how well Jamie Hagan and Fionn Carr have done at Leinster!

      • solidalarry

         /  March 26, 2013

        Though the Irish Indo have a line today saying Ryan’s committed himself to Leinster.

      • Thing is, Ryan is the only openside (apart from Jenno). If he can apply himself, his future is bright – particularly if we have an Irish coach who realises the importance of a true openside to playing the modern game. If Ruddock was going, I would understand it – O’Brien and Locky are ahead of him, Murphy seems to have overtaken him. Ryan is a different kettle of fish. I hope this is just poor finger in the air stuff.

      • Amiga500

         /  March 26, 2013

        @Egg – Jordi Murphy not a 7?

      • You’re right. He is but they seem to be trying him out in other positions too – he’s played at 8 a few times this season as well, which Ryan never would: he’s an out and out openside.

  10. I think Dominic Ryan has potential to be a world class talent and it’s only been a crippling run of injuries that have stopped him from being a key Leinster player. I’d rate him a lot higher than Jordi Murphy..if he holds out another year surely Jennings will be phased out paving the way for Ryan. Or even a new coach could give Heaslip a kick up the arse by switching SOB to 8 to accomodate Ryan!

  11. Also, Willie Faloon is doing well for Connacht. I don’t see why they’d look to recruit a new 7..

    • Mary Hinge

       /  March 27, 2013

      Of Connacht’s other 7’s: Johnny O’Connor has retired this morning, and Eoghan Grace is off to Plymouth Albion.

  12. Anonymous

     /  March 27, 2013

    The hair, the devil may care attitude, he puts me in mind of father Damo of father ted fame a lot. In fairness, as salmonsconnacht says I think the referee did signal advantage initially, but it appeared that he had withdrawn that, or because Madigan chose to kick that advantage was then over (which would’ve been a touch unfair). Either way I’m not convinced madigan thought it was a “live” play at the time of kicking, although it got very real, very quickly and ended up a good showcase of what he can do. Was great to see a bit of “wozabomky” but what was most pleasing was the authority/conviction with the place kicks. Even if you miss it is good to look like you are in control of things…..steve Walsh-esque authority!

    Curates egg is right Murphy is (another) converted 8, but that don’t mean that 7 won’t end up his best position, a bit like Henry possibly, only a lot earlier in his career.

  13. It’ll all be frand, shure, next season, when the big rebrand/rename to “Michael Bradley’s Leinster” happens…

  14. I meant “grand”, not “frand”, of course…

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