El Madrigal o Juan del Zextonio por el semifinal contre Biarritz?

Remarkably, Leinster have a selection dilemma at fly-half for this weekend’s semi-final against Biarritz.  It’s a scenario that seemed almost unthinkable until recently: that Sexton, Leinster’s best player and on-field general may not be an automatic choice for an important European game.  Incroyable!

It’s testimony to the strides made by Madigan in the ten weeks where Sexton has been injured (and, admittedly, the fact that it’s the Amlin).  It’s not that long ago that Leinster fans were crying into their moccha-frappucinos over Sexton’s departure, but now the anguish has been replaced by a sort of cautious optimism (the signing of Kirchner notwithstanding).  Madigan has set about the last number of weeks as if on a crusade to prove wrong the preconceptions many pundits have of him.  Can’t place kick off the tee?  Try 85% and top scorer in the Pro 12.  Great at home, but can he manage tough away games?  Wins in Adams Park and Thomond Park sound hard enough.  Can’t kick out of hand?  That part of his game is rapidly improving.  It’s reached the point where Madigan and the Lions have been mentioned in the same sentence.  There was a bump in the road against Ulster, but he responded as well as possible.

If one was to argue that the returning player has to earn the shirt back from the incumbent, there’s a strong case for retaining Madigan for the Biarritz match, such is his form.  Indeed, factor in that Sexton is leaving at the end of the season, and the strength of the argument compounds itself.  Joe Schmidt has already hinted that with a six-day turnaround, he might favour a number of those who didn’t play on Sunday.  That would mean Madigan starting.

But for all that, those with short memories need to cast their minds back to just how good a player Sexton is.  We’re talking about the de facto Lions test outhalf here. Would Leinster have won the last two Heineken Cups without Sexton? Unlikely.  If anyone has really forgotten, Sexton provided them with a reminder against Zebre in his return.  He kicked all his goals, made several clean breaks and knitted the backline together.  It was business as usual.  While Madigan has an air of what-will-he-do-next about him that gets supporters out of their seats, Sexton’s cool authority is undoubtedly preferred by his team-mates when the heat is on.

It’s easy to have one’s head turned by hugely talented players, but there exists a gulf between players who catch the eye with tries and linebreaks and those who deliver silverware.  Contepomi was the latter, but it was only when Sexton entered the fray that Leinster made the leap into greatness.  Madigan is a hugely exciting, wonderful prospect, but it’s not yet clear if he’s the sort of player who can consistently win finals.  It would ultimately be cruel luck on Madigan to drop him after doing so much so well in recent weeks.  Indeed, if Madigan is making a late, late bolt onto Gatland’s radar, he almost certainly needs to start and excel this weekend to have any chance of being in the Lions squad, so it would probably drive a nail into that coffin.

Madigan will at least know that his time will come, and that next season he’ll be starting these sorts of games.  When the news that Jonny Sexton was leaving, a number of Leinster fans suggested giving Madigan the rest of the season to acclimatise.  As it transpired, with Jonny’s injury, he has been given plenty of opportunities, and taken them. He’ll get many more next season, when the pressure will ramp up again – it’s one thing to win in Adams Park, yet another to beat Clermont in Bordeaux.

But the whiff of silverware has a habit of shaping priorities, and the majority of diehard Blues will be looking for Leinster to put their best team out to redeem what’s been a difficult season.  There are two cups to play for and Schmidt will look to his cup-winning fly-half to win them.  Jonny Sexton should start against Biarritz.

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29 Comments

  1. Agree that Madigan has improved immensely in the last 6 months, but in terms of moving teams around, bringing in his backs and kicking (this is still a weakness in his game, haven’t seen many examples of this ‘rapid improvement’, he still misses far to many kicks to touch for example), Sexton is by far the more accomplished FH. He’ll be a huge loss.

  2. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  April 25, 2013

    Madigan to wear 10, Sexton 12. Interchange them left and right side of the field. Madigan plays 10 on the right side of the pitch Sexton on the left. Biarritz will not expect it, both tackle well and play ball.

    Joe should want to try this considering next year. Gatty will be interested too.

    • Len

       /  April 25, 2013

      Harsh call on D’arcy who’s having a renaissance this year but well worth a look.

    • Sound Steve

       /  April 25, 2013

      Really don’t see the logic in this, Kidney was roundly criticised for shifting Sexton out to 12 and I don’t see how this is much different. Also, why would you play the game manager and superior kicking game (Sexton) at 12 and the game-breaker at 10 (Madigan)… Surely you’d want to do it the other way around! Even then I just don’t think Madigan has the physical presence to make an impact at 12. Also, as mentioned, it would be very harsh on D’Arcy and a European semi is a tad inappropriate for experimentation.

      As for the left and right idea I can see the logic of using a fb as an auxiliary first receiver/playmaker (especially on the blind side) as it provides an extra option in the back line but I couldn’t see it working with a 10 and 12 as you are basically removing a playmaker from every backline play.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 25, 2013

        The reason Kidney was criticised was that he was playing a shot O’Gara at ten and shifting out best 10 to 12, purely to accommodate his mate. O’Gara has had no place on an international rugby field for the last four years,while Madigan and JS are the best 10’s in Ireland, it isnt a valid comparison.
        By moving Sexton to 12 its like when DC plays 12 for ‘Saders and on occasion Nz(admittedly towards the start of his career in a NZ context). Remember the 04 tri nations with Spencer at 10 and DC at 12? Best of both worlds imo. If you dont have a Nonu/MBW option, a playmaking 12 makes life a lot easier, especially when paired with a running 10.

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

         /  April 25, 2013

        Kidney was blasted (rightly) because St. ROG was past it (Yes he could still kick. Make your tackles), accumulating undeserved caps and preventing Sexton from honing his skills at closing out test footy. ROG deserved to be on the bench in case of injury but 5 and 10 minute caps seriously piss me off when that player is far beyond the need to be blooded.

        Sexton at twelve because he is superior defensively and is a step further out from our backrow protection. Madigan at 10 pulls Biarritz back three up while the more educated boot 1 out can seriously punish them.

      • Sound Steve

         /  April 25, 2013

        If you’re using the ’04 NZ as the precedent for this model, they were a far from vintage outfit – bottom of the tri nations and only four tries in the entire tournament.

        It would be very difficult to execute a tactical kicking from 12 without it appearing telegraphed or being very high risk and I can’t think of an side who has done this. England ’03 played Catt at 12 but he generally stood at 10 with Wilko typically standing outside the 13 channel.

        The JS to 12 in the last 15 mins was typically used as an effort to close out a game, of which you can’t deny ROG was a master, or to put more width on the game, which having two 10s on the pitch should do theoretically. I’m not saying it worked but we didn’t have a tremendous amount of options in that regard so I can at least see the logic.

  3. jojo

     /  April 25, 2013

    Chogan, you beat me to it, think it could be considered. WOC, you mention whether madigan is the man to win finals, reckon he has to get the chances to see if he is.I’d rather we learn lessons (and he does) this season rather than next season. I think he can do it. He is guilty of trying to get too much out of his kicks.A lot of the kicks that don’t make touch are belters that go the length of the pitch so should not necessarily be considered poor kicks

    • It’s a brave man who uses a final as a chance to learn some lessons with next season in mind. Leinster have lost three Pro12 finals in a row – should they get to another they will be desperate to win it. A final is no place to experiment with eyes on the future. It’s about getting over the line and winning the cup.

  4. Len

     /  April 25, 2013

    JS is still the best outhalf in Europe, but Mad dog should start on Saturday IMO. JS has had 65min of rugby in two months and that was against the weakest side in the P12. He looked sharp and hungry but I don’t think that surprised any one with this being a Lions year and him being fav for the 10 jersey. As you point Mad dog has done everything asked of him in the last 10 weeks. He seems to get better with each game and while his performance against Munster may have been overshadowed it was none the less impressive. He’s the incumbent, on form and has that what will he do next factor (where I’ve felt that JSs attacks have become easier to read over the last season – over use of the loop around). He needs the big game exposure and I think starting him and having a hungry to perform JS on the bench ready to be sprung around the 60min mark would not only be good for both the players themselves but also Leinster. Lets just hope the weather cooperates.

  5. RDS Curva Nord

     /  April 25, 2013

    In fairness to Madigan he has been hot for years now; just never got a break… remember the try he scored against Cardiff in September 2010? (Yes it was THAT long ago). Last season 8 tries from limited opportunities. This season 8 tries again, 5 from before Sexton injury. Not just tries. Drop goal from halfway against Connacht? 2011. Drop goal in Thomond last year. Pass for Cronin in Twickenham.
    There has been a clamour to say he has only recently come good, but that is not true.

    Would Leinster have won those HC with Mads instead of Sexton? We will never know, it’s a hypothetical argument. Maybe not. Thanks Johnny. But Madigan has feasted on Joe’s crumbs for 3 years, and it’s his time now.

    • Plus one to that – lots of people only waking up now…the guy has been class for some time. His progression has been meticulously managed but now his time has come. Thanks for the memories Johnny but give the keys to Maddog.

    • We first blogged about him being a talent to watch early last season. He hit the ground running early last year and hasn’t stopped since. He’s always had the outsized pass and the line-break threat. However, to say he’s been class for some time and pick selsectively from a number of ‘highlights reel’ moments is to over-egg the proverbial pudding. Too often with young, exciting players, folk are keen to measure them by their best performances rather than their entire portfolio. Madigan was culpable in the awful defeat to Connacht early this season. He’s had his ups and his downs, it’s only in the last couple of months we’re seeing real consistency and more astute decision-making from him. He’s always looked exciting, but we’re only seeing him becoming genuinely briliant, and a more complete player, now.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 25, 2013

        Consistency and decision making I hear you cry! I’d rather Madigan kept his mercurial style of play than settle into the conservative well rounded playmaker that JS has been molded into. I’m not knocking JS here, he is the best 10 when on form, but Madigan has the potential to be even better. If Madigan keeps up and improves what he is already good as as opposed to being reined in by the more conservative elements in the Irish rugby scene he will have ousted JS from the green jersey in no time(contingent on Schmidt or an attack minded coach being appointed of course). I’d send Madigan out there with a pat on the back and tell him to do whatever he wants.

      • RDS Curva Nord

         /  April 25, 2013

        It is selective, that’s true; I only wanted to highlight that the reel is spread over three seasons…if he were a premiership footballer, he’d be plugging his autobiography “Mad Dog Loose” at this stage!

  6. contraflow

     /  April 25, 2013

    Iano “TRY-TIME!!!!” Madser for me. Sexton can watch affairs from the bench and if needed swoop in and mop things up. These games are crucial experience that Iano needs to get.

  7. Its a compelling and well-argued case but, once Johnny made his decision, I always thought Madigan should be given the keys, as it is in Leinster’s interest for him to get as much experience and responsibility now to ensure he/we can hit the ground running next year.

    The reality is that we are blessed with two outhalves who would seem to have what it takes to win this game at home. Against that background, its a no-brainer. Thanks for the memories Johnny (and he undoubtedly was at the core of our last two Heineken victories, and he is absolutely right to go to France) but you’re yesterday’s man.

  8. With the words, “Sexton, Leinster’s best player and on-field general” in the first paragraph, you answered your own question.

    Or, rather, it became a new one: do we want to do everything we can to win the Amlin this year as an end in itself, or are we looking further and with broader considerations?

    Former = Sexton, latter = Madigan.

    Maybe it’s just my impression, but I think most sports teams tend to keep picking their man when, as happens all the time, a big player announces his intention to leave.

    Dortmund will pick Gotze against Bayern in the CL final, I’d imagine.

    PS. it’s nitpicking, but Leinster were doing OK with Felipe in 2009 before he got crocked… though Sexton was bloody good from the moment he took off his tracksuit in the semi.

  9. Xyz

     /  April 25, 2013

    Like anyone who has bothered to watch the Pro12 over the past season or two I’ve been excited by Madigan but I’m still not convinced that he is a better option now than J10. For one thing I haven’t seen him drive Leinster to be better than they otherwise would be, while Johnny seems to lift the whole team (this is a similar complaint to those last year who questioned his kicking from the tee, I do recognise that, but it still niggles me).

    The other issue is with that amazing pass of his – at 10, 20 metres it is incredible but slow it down the fsck over shorter distances. It sometimes looks liable to take someone’s eye out.

  10. SMH

     /  April 25, 2013

    Does Joe Schmidt, who also looks like he’ll be moving on from Leinster at the end of the season, want to consolidate things with a couple of trophies, or does he want to take chances that could leave him empty handed only for the possible benefit of his successor? I suspect the former. Smart and forward thinking as he is, I am pretty sure he also likes winning things and Sexton at 10 is the proven choice.

    • That’s a different question though. I would expect him to pick Sexton. As a Leinster fan, I would want him to pick Madigan. Whoever he picks at 10, I would they would be capable of winning us the game, so it is a luxury anyway.

  11. jojo

     /  April 25, 2013

    As future Irish couch he could well pick sexton so as to not sour relations..

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  April 25, 2013

      Ah now. That’s the kind of crony like reasoning that has us where we are.
      Schmidt’s job is to develop and maintain the player stocks at Leinster for the benefit of the national team while winning competitions. Whatever his choice, I’m pretty sure it’ll be the right one.

  12. Seiko

     /  April 25, 2013

    I’d imagine Sexton will start, because if he doesn’t he shouldn’t be going on a Lions as he has played so little in the last couple of months and I’d be pretty sure Schmidt would be aware of the financial implications for the IRFU if he doesn’t go on tour with the Lions.

    • Stupid question maybe but what are the financial implications for the IRFU? What does the IRFU actually ‘get’ out of its players going on the Lions tour?

  13. zdm

     /  April 26, 2013

    This is turning in to quite a juicy little rugby soap opera!

    If you’re picking the man for the game, regardless of what stage in the seaons and who’s leaving at the end, Sexton is the man to face Biarritz who will look to choke up Leinster’s attack with an aggressive defence. Madigan is a “front foot” player, he lives on confidence – when he is good, he is very good but if Leinster are not purring, I’m not sure he has the “mentals” yet to drag the team through. There is no question that even on a bad day, Sexton influences games and for that reason, I would choose him for Biarritz.

    I have a hunch though that Leinster will play have a different fly half for each tournament – this allows them to tilt for silverware but also plan for Post-Johnny Day. It’ll then come down to which tournament they want more. I hope they prioritise the Pro-12 – for all the dross it serves in the winter months, there is nothing like a bit of “neighbourly love” to close off a season.

  14. jojo

     /  April 26, 2013

    hmmm so joe played diplomat.. we called it here.
    I am not sure its the best call, but with darcy out injured he didnt have any abundance of choices.

  15. Perhaps the piece should be renamed El Madrigal y Juan del Zextonio por el semifinal contre Biarritz?

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