The team that adapts best to the changes caused by returning internationals will emerge victorious from Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Bath, according to Ian Madigan.
Leinster go into the game at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 3.15pm) without the injured Rhys Ruddock, but with a whole host of Ireland internationals returning to action after a period in which the province’s Pro12 form dipped.
Madigan himself was in impressive form in Leinster’s remarkable 34-34 Pro12 draw with Glasgow Warriors last Friday, kicking four conversions and two penalties.
In general, though, a depleted Leinster side have struggled over recent weeks, and now face change again as their front-liners return for Saturday’s game.
“The way the format of the competition is now, you’ve less time to gel,” Madigan said, looking ahead to the Bath clash.
“It’s a big challenge for both sides. Bath have a lot of internationals now in their team as well. I think whichever team adapts best in gelling back together will probably be the team that wins at the weekend.”
Bath, too, have been hit by the absence of their England internationals: they have won just twice in their last six games.
“They lost a lot of players during the Six Nations,” Madigan pointed out. “They’ve a team that’s littered with internationals, and once they get them back in their side they’ll be very formidable. I think they’re still coming fourth [now third] in the Premiership, and they’ve been playing some really good quality football this year. You know, they play a very attractive brand of rugby.
“I think as back lines go, they’re one of the most dangerous in the Premiership at the moment, with George Ford feeding the likes of Anthony Watson and [Jonathan] Joseph in the centre. And then they’ve got a bit of experience in Matt Banahan at the back, and Watson on the right wing.
“They’ve a team that’s littered with internationals, and once they get them back in their side they’ll be very formidable" - Ian Madigan on Bath
“They’re the type of back line that if you’re not fully clued in they can really open you up. So we’ll certainly have to be switched in this weekend.”
Madigan admitted that new combinations had taken some time to come together for Leinster against Glasgow: it was the first time he and Ben Te’o had played together in the centre, and international commitments meant they had had just one training session together before the match.
He said a full week of training this week would help Leinster ahead of the Bath clash, no matter who was selected in the centre.
“Luke [Fitzgerald] has come back from injury now, and he’s in fantastic form. Every time he gets his hands on the ball it looks like something is going to happen...he’s someone I certainly feel very comfortable playing with.
“Similarly with Ben, I might not have played with him a huge amount, but I’ve watched a huge amount of footage of him. I know his strengths very well. For me, a massive part of my game would be trying to get the most out of him. He’s an incredible athlete, and someone I’d be very excited about playing alongside.”
Madigan said that Leinster’s internationals would have something of an advantage having played against some of the Bath players during the Six Nations.
“We would have scouted the different feet that these players step off, and what favoured hand they pass off,” he said.
The Six Nations period hurt Leinster, and they go into Saturday’s game with just one win in their last six games. Madigan, though, was not concerned by this fact, voicing his confidence that returning international and the province’s momentum would help them.
“Winning is a habit, but when we win a game but perform poorly I’d be more concerned than losing a game and performing well.
“We’ll assess our performance from Friday and look to move forward on that, and there’s guys coming back from the national set-up that will bring the winning form that Ireland had, and that positivity, into the squad.”