JJ Hanrahan sailing to pastures new, should Ian Madigan follow suit?
Confirmation came yesterday of a move weeks in the making. JJ Hanrahan will depart his beloved Munster in search of more opportunities at the English champions Northampton Saints next season. The Kerry native must be applauded for taking the bold, if not slightly risky decision, to step out of the shadows of Ian Keatley and into the light at the Saints.
Only time will tell if this move pays off but the question must be asked, with the impending return of Jonny Sexton to Leinster, should Ian Madigan take a leaf out of Harahan’s book and leave for a starting birth at ten elsewhere?
Madigan is a lot further along in his development than Hanrahan but not yet the finished article. The Blackrock man was meant to enjoy first choice status at Leinster for the last year and a half with Sexton moving to Paris. The reality is Madigan has failed to nail down the out half position with Matt O’Connor siding with the safer option of Jimmy Gopperth more often than not.
The influence of Madigan has still been exceptional since Sexton departed, but with the number 12 or 15 on his back. His goal kicking is at world-class consistency levels and his ability with ball in hand makes him a real handful. Work is still needed on his tactical kicking and ability to control a game. This will come from consist game time in the pivot role but it is uncertain whether this can happen at Leinster.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt rates Madigan having had him at his disposal during his three-year stay at Leinster. The use of Madigan off the bench for Ireland is a potent weapon for Ireland which Schmidt will want to continue to utilise.
The issue arises though when in Sextons absence, like we see heading into the Six Nations, who gets the nod to start the game. Ian Keatley plays at ten for Munster week in week out and has shown good form this season. The former Leinster Academy man is knocking on the door to uproot Madigan from the number two slot behind Sexton and I predict he will do just that given his game time and form for Munster. Not to mention Paddy Jackson, who enjoys the relative comfort of playing outside Ruan Pienaar at Ulster, although his form has not been up to scratch this season. Hanrahan will be hoping to replace Meyler as Northampton’s starting ten next year, a challenge not easily managed given Stephen Mylers good form this season and high standing with coach Jim Mallinder.
All this could potentially mean Madigan will be competing against three other out half’s who all start for their respective teams for a place behind Sexton on Ireland bench. A challenge Madigan is more than capable of overcoming, but with limited game time if he stays at Leinster, I have my doubts.
Madigan’s current deal runs until the end of next season and with the World Cup fast approaching the need is great for him to be starting at out half for Leinster, for his and Irelands sake. At 25 Madigan has plenty of years left in him but he can ill afford to waste these years warming the bench. The announcement that Gopperth is departing for Wasps next season may sway MO’C decision to back Madigan more at ten now. This would fix the problem in the short term, but nothing is certain once Sexton returns.
After the dust has settled and England 2015 draws to a close both Sexton and Madigan will return to Leinster. A place on the bench or at best out of position looks to be in Madigan’s future, unless he follows Hanrahan and seeks opportunities else where. An early end to his contract after the World Cup may become a viable option.