MATT O’CONNOR HAS insisted that Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has no say in whether or not Ian Madigan is selected at out-half for the province.
With Johnny Sexton recovering from the effects of concussion, Madigan is favourite to wear 10 for Ireland in the Six Nations opener against Italy on 7 February, despite his lack of extended game time in that shirt for Leinster.
However, the 25-year-old’s two most recent starts for O’Connor’s side [against Munster and Ulster] both came at out-half. Having started more often at inside centre prior to that, there was some suggestion that Schmidt’s influence was being felt.
Last October, the Ireland coach stated it is ‘absolutely untrue’ that he has any say in the selection of the provincial teams, following speculation in relation to Ulster’s use of Jared Payne at outside centre.
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Leinster head coach O’Connor has backed those words up again this afternoon.
“He hadn’t played there [before that] because of circumstance and because of the injuries we’ve had in midfield; he didn’t get the opportunities that we would have liked earlier in the season. We just need to cover all bases for our environment and there was a little bit of a spin-on to Ireland in giving Ian the opportunity to push his claims over Christmas.
“That was a win-win.”
The unfairly maligned Jimmy Gopperth was back at out-half for Leinster in last weekend’s win over the Cardiff Blues, continuing his run of ever-improving form.
Madigan scored a cheeky try against Ulster in the RDS. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
O’Connor was giving nothing away with regards to who will wear 10 for Leinster against Castres on Saturday, but admitted he was impressed by what he saw from the Kiwi native in Cardiff.
“Yeah, I thought Jimmy was very good at the weekend,” said O’Connor. “I thought he controlled things very well for us. We were patient with the [synthetic] surface; the game dynamics are unique on that surface.
“I thought Jimmy in particular, but also Luke McGrath and the whole team, played those conditions well and we kept our composure to get maximum points out of that.”
It’s been a see-saw selection contest between Madigan and Gopperth for the out-half shirt at Leinster over the last two seasons, although the latter has generally been preferred for the biggest fixtures.
Captain Jamie Heaslip says he’s a fan of both players, with the duo being equally as demanding of their forwards.
“Mads can be a bit more bullish and Jimmy can be quite precise. At the end of the line, both of them demand quite a lot from their back unit, but definitely from their forwards. They demand quite a lot, but they’re also two players who can ad lib it with the best of them and just play football.
“They’re both equally cranky but in very different ways.”
Leinster decided not to appeal McGrath’s three-week ban. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Meanwhile, O’Connor shed more light on the reasoning behind Leinster’s decision not to appeal Jack McGrath’s three-week suspension for stamping, a ban that means the loosehead prop will miss both upcoming Champions Cup ties against Castres and Wasps.
“The timing of it is unfortunate,” said Connor. “Jack made a mistake, he got banned for it, he’s learned the lesson from it. We sought the neccesary opinions and the thinking was that you’re unlikely to change it. So we’ve moved on.
“That wasn’t necessarily the thought process [that an appeal might lead to an even longer ban].
Again, O’Connor underlined the fact that national team management had no say in Leinster’s decision. Any extension of the suspension for McGrath would have risked the prop’s early involvement in the Six Nations, but O’Connor stressed that the Ireland camp had had no say.
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