Matt O’Connor feels Ian Madigan’s kicking will be vital next week
Leinster head coach says temperament 25-year-old showed was first class after landing six kicks from seven attempts
Leinster’s Ian Madigan kicks his side’s opening penalty. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Either Brian O’Driscoll or Jonny Wilkinson will depart the European scene at the Stade Félix Mayol next Sunday but for Leinster to progress they need rugby to be no country for old men.
“He kicked brilliantly,” said Leinster coach Matt O’Connor after Saturday’s 22-18 victory over Munster. “Missed one on half-time but he had some kicks that you wouldn’t expect blokes to kick and the temperament he showed, he’s first class.
“Kicking out of hand probably wasn’t where he wanted to be – but he’s a 90 per cent goal kicker and that’s going to be very, very important next week.”
Madigan himself adopted a very Wilkinson-esque attitude when Keatley’s flawless place-kicking was mentioned.
“Yeah and I missed one.
“Got off to a ropey start. We had a set play off the first kick-off received and we decided to change the call late and I got myself in a bad position for the clearance kick and just pushed it too far for Luke (Fitzgerald) and it went out on the full which put us under pressure straight away and resulted in them getting three points.”
Thereafter he not only recovered but he thrived, killing off a late Munster revival with a sixth successful kick after 78 minutes. The confidence he exuded afterwards seems natural but it has been earned.
“I don’t think the place-kicking is a massive issue. I was golden boot winner last year in the Rabo. When I’ve had opportunities in big games, I’ve stepped up. Obviously, I missed one kick before half-time which was very important for us. I was lucky enough to know why I missed the kick. I had a quick chat with our kicking coach (Richie Murphy) and I still had good confidence going into the second half
“The work-ons for me are more kicking out of hand, putting teams under pressure that way, feeling my way around the game and calling the right calls at the right time”.
Toulon have many old men like Jonny and Freddie Michalak (who put up 27 points in the weekend’s 32-28 defeat of Toulouse). Or Carl Hayman, that great beast of a tighthead who in 2007 left the international stage far too soon.
Or Rugby’s ultimate villain, Bakkies Botha and his World Cup-winning compatriots Bryan Habana and Juan Smith. The list of goliaths goes on; Puma captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and the child-like yet brutal Mathieu Bastareaud. “Matt Giteau is a fantastic player as well,” Madigan added before his belief shone through. “What we have over them is that we’re playing for the club we grew up in. You saw with both sides tonight what that means.
“You’re representing your club, where you grew up and where you come from. I would like to think that’s going to give us the edge next week.
“I think when the going gets tough, away from home, when your backs are against the wall and you’ve got a best friend either side of you, it’s going to definitely make a difference.”
Then there is the O’Connor factor. “Matt coming from Leicester and Australia doesn’t have that emotion attached to it and he was just thinking technically how can we beat Munster.
“He’ll be doing the exact same for Toulon. He won’t be thinking this could be Drico’s last Heineken Cup match or anything. He’ll be thinking game plan. He was extremely clam when we came into changing room. We had a chat, backs and forwards, then came together as a team. It really worked for us.”
O’Driscoll’s long goodbye remains so captivating because his body constantly breaks down before our eyes. But he gets up, gets into the line and astonishingly links the play. “I think he writes his own script. He’s the consummate professional. Everything that comes his way he deserves. Going down to Toulon next week, we can’t be emotionally attached to that. It was the same going to France in the Six Nations. You can’t be thinking about that.”