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Madigan will return to find Ireland's out-half depth chart all the deeper

The Dubliner will face an utterly changed landscape to the one he left four years ago.

EVERY NOW AND again over the course of the last four years, the name Ian Madigan would be put to Joe Schmidt as a potential solution when this knock or that had brought Jonathan Sexton low and out-half ranks were running a tad thin.

ian-madigan Madigan lines up a kick against La Rochelle in last season's Challenge Cup quarter-final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Clearly, the idea was given short shrift by the erstwhile Ireland coach. Sexton was to be the only exception to the non-rule of selecting only Irish-based players.

The chief playmaker is now also the captain, remains top of the out-half tree and Andy Farrell’s influence remains on the Ireland coaching setup, but otherwise the landscape has drastically changed since Madigan was last on the books of an Irish province.

The Dubliner will make a welcome return under the IRFU wing next season when he departs Bristol for Ulster, but he can by no means expect to pick up where he left off on his 30th cap for Ireland. Provincially, competition will be intense too.

ian-madigan-with-johnny-sexton Madigan and Sexton in early 2016. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Madigan’s last outing in green came at the end of the long World Cup season that began with such palpable emotion as his tears marked an immense win over France to help Ireland top the pool before the tournament, as it seems all World Cups do, quickly turned sour.

The then-Leinster man remained second-choice to Sexton through the 2016 Six Nations, but come that summer’s tour to South Africa -Farrell’s first tour in a green tracksuit – he remained a replacement with Sexton out through injury. And after being an unused replacement in the landmark 14-man win over the Springboks, he would make cameos off the bench in the two defeats that followed.

Returning to third place in the pecking order to be 10 in Farrell’s team will surely take some time for Madigan to work towards. He will turn 31 next week and will arrive back on these shores to find the two men who deputised him at Leinster hot on Sexton’s heels.

Ross Byrne is quickly coming of age as an expert all-rounder, Joey Carbery will hope to be back to full fitness after a string of torrid luck and Jack Carty’s post-World Cup resurgence has been halted only by the Covid-19 cancellations.

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ross-byrne-and-joey-carbery Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Billy Burns has earned his share of public plaudits from Farrell too, and he will provide the main obstacle for Madigan as his excellent array of tactical kicking has boosted Ulster’s attacking rhythm this season.

Madigan’s time away from Ireland certainly did not go as he would have planned. After a stint with a stodgy Bordeaux side, he helped Pat Lam’s Bristol seal promotion to the Premiership. But, curiously, he has made just three appearances for the Bears in the top flight this season.

Along with Burns, Ulster have talented young 10s in the shape of Bill Johnston, Michael Lowry and Angus Curtis who are capable of making the step up, but competition from an experienced performer will do them no harm.

Madigan has proven himself capable of being one of the most cool and consistent goal-kickers around and his ability as a running out-half made him a natural fit to operate as a second playmaker at 12 and 15.  Dan McFarland’s quote as Ulster announced the signing may be instructive here:

I’m confident he will be a valuable addition to our squad both on and off the pitch, where he will bring a bank of experience to a group of talented young out-halves.”

The head coach will hope that experience will help drive standards through next year.

Postponed Six Nations fixtures mean that the 2020/21 season will likely have extended international windows when coaches must make do without a large cohort of players at their disposal.

McFarland will be keen on seeing Madigan and fellow new recruit Alby Mathewson dole out worldly wisdom through the squad and ensure the northern province continue building a consistency that was so sorely lacking in years past.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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