Madigan set to fill Sexton hole
IT is one of those unhappy coincidences that the hamstring tear that could put Jonathan Sexton out of the rest of the Six Nations happened when he was in close proximity to the one man most likely to gain from his absence.
England fly-half Owen Farrell and Sexton have moved well ahead of England's Toby Flood and Rhys Priestland, Dan Bigger and James Hook, all Welshmen, as the standout candidates for the out-half test place on the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia.
Now, it is understood Sexton has been hit with a Grade-2 tear to his hamstring that could keep him out of international rugby until the launch of the Lions tour in June.
The way could be clear for Farrell to build on his growing reputation as a cool-headed tactical- and place-kicker without the brilliance of Sexton to show up his limitations.
The problem with a Grade-2 tear is that it is notoriously difficult to pinpoint the recovery period with any real degree of confidence.
While it is believed the supremely driven Sexton is targeting a return to action against France, there is no guarantee that he will make that date or, indeed, that for the Italians.
In the 31st minute of the Ireland-England match, centre Billy Twelvetrees' grubber rebounded back off Peter O'Mahony and Sexton to offer up the possibility of a breakout.
As Sexton got his right boot to the ball for a second time, there was a clear expression of pain just before Farrell impeded his gallop with an innocuous looking body check.
There are three types of hamstring injuries. A Grade-1 consists of minor tears to the muscle. A Grade-2 is a partial tear in the muscle. A Grade-3 is a severe or complete rupture of the muscle.
The repercussions of a Grade-2 tear may consist of swelling, a limp, occasional sudden twinges of pain during activity, pain caused by pressure on the hamstring or flexing the knee and restriction of knee movement.
Of course, the man most likely to feel the immediate benefit from Sexton's misfortune is his old sparring partner, Ronan O'Gara. The Munster man will be the logical choice to add to his 127 caps when Ireland confronts Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday week.
The most interesting call will come in Declan Kidney's reserve fly-half for Scotland. Ulster's Paddy Jackson was ahead of Munster's Ian Keatley and Leinster's Ian Madigan in November.
The landscape has changed dramatically since then. Jackson was dropped by Ulster coach Mark Anscombe for the Heineken Cup match against Castres Olympique in January.
Anscombe preferred to pair Paul Marshall and Ruan Pienaar at half-back, using Jackson for 26 minutes off the bench.
The most recent evidence was of Madigan's 16 points for Leinster against Cardiff Blues last Friday night; Keatley's 20 points for Munster against Edinburgh on Saturday.
It could just be that Madigan, the man earmarked to be given the first shot at tying down Leinster's number ten jersey when Sexton moves to France in the summer, will edge out ex-Belvedere College fly-half Keatley.