Fitzgerald back to form with dazzling footwork
Flanker Dominic Ryan was the star of the show at the RDS as his hat-trick of tries helped Leinster to a facile win over Treviso. Photograph: Inpho
Leinster 40 Treviso 5:The outhalf debate is raging with Munster, Ulster and Leinster all making strong cases for their men. It’s the value of experience versus youthful exuberance versus what can no longer be termed the raw talent of Ian Madigan.
Despite the Blackrock out-half producing an almost flawless performance on Saturday night, Ireland coach Declan Kidney has again overlooked the 23-year-old, retaining Ronan O’Gara and calling up Paddy Jackson for Sunday’s resumption of the Six Nations in Edinburgh. But regardless of what transpires this week, Madigan appears to have solved the problem of replacing Jonathan Sexton in blue next season.
The promotion of Gordon D’Arcy’s understudy at inside centre next Sunday in Murrayfield is even less clear, also turning this game into an audition of sort for that position. That Leinster selected a Kiwi at 12 was a slight disruption but Fergus McFadden eventually got a run at outside centre, while Luke Fitzgerald continued his march back to 2009 Lions form with some dazzling foot work.
Worryingly, the IRFU/Leinster Branch have yet to agree a new contract with the 25-year-old, who was a class above the rest in the first half, albeit from fullback. Once upon a time, Eddie O’Sullivan capped Fitzgerald at 12 and when discarded by Declan Kidney for the 2011 World Cup, Joe Schmidt sped up his convalescence in the position as well. “He looks on the edge of being very dangerous,” said Schmidt.
Madigan kicked four from five on a night when O’Gara posted two from five in Llanelli and, most worryingly, Jackson was relieved of all kicking duties by Ruan Pienaar
The pressure was stacked on Madigan after missing the first, right touchline conversion but two minutes later he nailed one from the left sideline. His constant running threat, range of passing and spacial awareness should also be lauded.“Probably one of his cross kicks, he probably didn’t get through the ball and get his kick foot down but apart from that I thought he kicked well,” said Schmidt.
Ran the game
“His first goal kick was slightly awry, he didn’t quite strike that as he would have liked, but the rest of them were superb. I thought he ran the game really well, pierced the line on attack, which we know is one of his strengths, but his passing game was really assured as well and the bit that you can’t see, but certainly hear on the feedback, is him organising the players around him. I think he did a pretty good job of that.”
Elsewhere, Seán Cronin provided a timely reminder of his broken field running ability, dashing over for two tries, the first magnificently created by Fitzgerald cruelly toying with the Treviso defenders.
But the man of the match was unquestionably Dominic Ryan. A disastrous run of injury appears to be behind the powerful former Gonzaga schoolboy.
Rhys Ruddock may have topped his backrow pal in the tackle count, but it was the effectiveness of every Ryan hit that should see him in the Peter O’Mahony/Chris Henry bracket by season’s end.
He grabbed a hat-trick of tries as well but that was secondary to his defensive performance. The tries, really, belong to the Leinster maul, with Ryan profiting from his position in the cockpit. “I think Dominic has had a massively frustrating 18 months,” Schmidt explained. “This year he’s had to stand by and see Rhys Ruddock get back from injury sooner and start to get his big engine working in games. Jordi Murphy at the same time has done really well for us in that versatile loose forward in that he can play six, seven or eight so I think Dominic is really feeling a bit of pressure from his co-young loose forwards and he put it back on them and did a pretty good job of it this evening.”
Question marks remain about Michael Bent. Replacing Jamie Hagan on 55 minutes, Bent’s first scrum collapsed, the second saw him cough up a penalty and if not for a huge hit by Ryan, a try would have been the punishment.
In contrast, Jack McGrath looked comfortable on the other side, Eoin O’Malley and Dave Kearney both made encouraging returns while Noel Reid appears to be progressing nicely. Schmidt also name-checked Devin Toner afterwards, as the raft of secondrow injuries leaves him primed to make Ireland’s bench, although Leo Cullen’s arrival proved the captain, at 35, remains a better option.