MIKE ROSS has admitted his disappointment at the news that Jonny Sexton is off to Paris.
The Leinster and Ireland prop believes the departure of the fly-half is a big blow to the European champions on and off the park, where his leadership skills have played a big part in the province's three Heineken Cup wins in the last four seasons.
But the Corkman, who recently committed his own future to Leinster, insists that Ian Madigan can step up and deliver in replacing Sexton, who is poised to join Racing Metro on a lucrative two-year deal after turning down the IRFU's offer of a new contract.
Ross says that not only will Sexton's wealth of on-field abilities be missed at the RDS next season, but his forceful personality and leadership skills will be a big loss to the club.
"I heard after I came off training today," he says. "On a personal level, I am disappointed to see him go. He has been such a big influence at Leinster over the last few seasons. He is a world-class player and a loss for any side.
"But at the same time, he'll get to experience a different culture. Let's face it, Paris is not a bad place to live; he'll probably come back fluent in French and his leaving probably won't affect Ireland, it is more of a blow to Leinster.
"He's very demanding. He can be a stroppy bugger, he has had fallings-out with more than a few of us. But, at the same time, that is the inner strength that drives him on.
"It is an opportunity for Ian Madigan to step up as he has been doing. He is a different type of player to Jonny; he has his strengths all the same."
The tighthead prop had a spell abroad of his own during his career, spending three years at London club Harlequins between 2006 and 2009.
He left Munster at a very different stage of his career to where the in-demand fly-half is right now, but says the experience is one that he would recommend to any player.
"My personal experience of it came at a different stage to Jonny. I didn't have any other option really, but I really, really enjoyed it. I still talk to the friends I made at Harlequins, so it really was the making of me as a player," he says.
"Any young guy who doesn't make it at the provinces, I think they should go. Jonny's at the top of his game, he is at a different level."
The seismic news of Sexton's impending departure has overshadowed the upcoming Six Nations, but as kick-off approaches against Wales in a week's time, Ross says there is a cautious optimism around the Ireland camp.
Much will depend on that opening clash at the Millennium Stadium where Declan Kidney's side must end a recent poor run against Wales in order to set themselves up for a Grand Slam tilt.
"It has been good. We have a really good buzz in the camp after the November internationals and that has continued," says Ross.
"Add to that, we have Drico and Besty back and that helps. It is an enjoyable place to be, the guys know their stuff and everybody's switched on. I'm quietly optimistic going into the Six Nations.
"We have struggled against Wales, but as long as we get our preparation right, everyone knows exactly what they are doing and as long as we prepare as well as we can do, then that will get the result at the end of the day.
"We have been given the tools, we just need to execute them well and get our set-pieces right. If we do that, then it will go a long way towards winning the game.
"There hasn't been a huge amount between the teams, they got a last-minute penalty at the Aviva last year, were very good in the World Cup and the year before it was a controversial try. That's the way it goes."
Mike Ross was speaking in Dublin at the launch of EA Sports' 'Dead Space 3', available from Xtravision, Gamestop and Smyths stores nationwide from February 8.