Potential Ian Madigan switch to Munster from Leinster a test case for the IRFU
Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30
It was telling that, when he went public with the fact that he's assessing his options for next season and beyond, Ian Madigan said that a conversation with Joe Schmidt is high on his agenda.
The out-half looks increasingly likely to leave Leinster at the end of this season and has offers on the table from France and England, but he is open to a move within the Irish system and Munster would appear to be the preferred destination for the IRFU.
"You'd be naïve to rule it out," he said of staying within the system at another province two weeks ago. So it will come as no surprise, then, that the union consider Thomond Park the best place for the man who was second choice out-half for Ireland during the World Cup despite rarely starting in the No10 shirt at Leinster.
The return of Johnny Sexton on a four-year deal appears to have made Madigan's mind up on whether to stay or go.
Now, it is performance director David Nucifora's job to convince him that remaining in Ireland is as good for his career as it would be for Schmidt's options. Part of the Australian's remit is to ensure that playing resources available to play for the national team are as evenly spread as possible in order to ensure that the national team have a ready supply of quality players playing games.
The scenario that sees Leinster supply 20 players to the World Cup squad is seen as being far from ideal, as is the sight of a regular member of Schmidt's match-day squads, like Jordi Murphy, being left out of Leinster's match-day squads for the biggest games of the season because of the amount of back-rows available at the RDS.
The answer, according to Lansdowne Road, is to move players between the provinces but the hardest part of the equation is often convincing the players to move.
"Obviously there has to be succession plans done," Anthony Foley said. "The national one is massively important., I'm sure the IRFU want all the players that they see as Irish internationals playing regular rugby.
"If they can't get it in their own province, they probably need to look at it in another province. That's the reality."
However, Foley warned against diluting the identity on which the success of the provinces has been built. The idea that local players represent their home region has been crucial to generating interest in all four teams.
"You just can't dilute the GAA, the parish, the two out of the game," he said. "It's something we've been brought up on, that is held dear to every player that wants to play for their province.
"Some are lucky enough to do it, some have to go elsewhere and become adopted sons of another province. That has worked for some players in the past. I don't think you can do anything with a sweeping brush. You need to see who is up for it and who wants it. A player will always want choice and it's important to have that."
The IRFU cannot tell a player to move province and, while there have been players who have made the switch, they have had difficulty convincing Leinster players that their future is best served elsewhere. One wonders also if Robbie Henshaw opting to leave Connacht for Leinster would be in the best interests of the union's plans for spreading the depth.
However, the players must be selfish and look after their own needs. Asking a player to move midway through his career is not necessarily as easy as it sounds when you're sitting in an office on Lansdowne Road.
"It is a big decision," Mike Ross, one of four Ireland tighthead props in Leinster, said. "I have a house, my kids are in school. Moving isn't a great process. For a younger lad it might be a bit easier. It depends where you are in your life.
"It's not a case of moving pieces around a chess board. The player has to want to go there in the first place. Ultimately, it is up to the player and if he is happy where he is he will fight to stay. If he isn't then…
"It's hard to tell a guy in his early 20s that he's not going to make it with his province. It's more the guys in their mid-20s who might get an opportunity elsewhere if they are not getting it where they are."
Given a lack of depth below the front-line internationals has been cited as the key reason behind Ireland's World Cup quarter-final exit, there is a determination with the IRFU to problem solve from within rather than recruit from abroad.
If they can convince Madigan to move to Munster rather than Harlequins or Bordeaux Begles, then it could open the door to a more fluid system.