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Madigan needs vital game time time

Where is Jonathan Sexton going to be this time next year? Racing Metro? Toulon? Leinster?

Ian Madigan would certainly like to know. Maybe, he already does. Either way, it doesn't really change anything for him. It all boils down to the 2015 World Cup. That is his target of targets.

And to get there he has to get past Jimmy Gopperth.

The general assumption on this island sides with Ireland's first-choice fly-half returning home to work in an environment where he will be welcomed with open arms.

Apparently, Sexton has been offered an unprecedented four-year deal by the Irish Rugby Football Union. Absence can make the heart of such a business model as the IRFU grow fonder.

SUMMIT

The overall benefits to club Leinster are obvious as they continue to work back towards the summit of European rugby, a peak where they planted their flag three years out of four from 2009 to 2012.

The meaning of rugby life for Ireland's current next-best-option at ten is not so clear cut, even though Madigan is the holder of a rare three-year contract.

There is job security without the guarantee of game time security. That is his main problem.

In fact, when Sexton made his decision to leave Leinster for Racing Metro, the province realised it needed stability in the position and this, allied to Madigan's consistency of form, convinced the financial hierarchy that he was outperforming the value of his then contract.

After due consideration, Leinster offered Madigan an extended and improved deal last summer, partly down to his stay and play standards and, in smaller part, down to the void left by Sexton.

And then along came Gopperth.

This time last year Madigan started out ahead of Ulster's Paddy Jackson in the international pecking order. It was Leinster coach Matt O'Connor's prudent timeshare decision between Madigan and Gopperth that opened the Ireland door for Jackson.

Coach Joe Schmidt could only hold onto the fortitude and form Madigan showed on Ireland's 2013 two-test tour to North America for so long. He had to play to hold his place on the grid.

The reality is that Madigan was an unused replacement away to the Ospreys in round one of the Heineken Cup last season and second best again to Gopperth against Castres Olympique a week later, making a 10-minute cameo appearance at inside centre.

At the same time, the rapidly maturing Jackson was steering Ulster through choppy waters in Europe. This tipped the balance back in his favour. Madigan was out and Jackson was in for Ireland's November 2013 tests.

From then on, Schmidt stood side-by-side with Jackson until the fifth and final leg of Ireland's Six Nations odyssey when he ditched the Ulsterman for Madigan as back-up to Sexton to an audible gasp from the media on selection day at Carton House.

However, it was a decision made by necessity, not on old Leinster loyalty. The truth was Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble and Brian O'Driscoll were all struggling with injury. There was sincere uncertainty over how long one or more would last.

VERSATILITY

Versatility to cover more than one jersey became vital. Madigan was not just Schmidt's choice. He was the only choice.

More than that, Madigan rewarded Schmidt's pragmatism and trust by doing what he could to close out Ireland's second Six Nations championship in six seasons at a manic Stade de France.

He added another layer by kicking two late penalties in the first test in Argentina and executing the match-winning try in the second test.

And so the barometer has been reset.

Once again, Madigan will begin the season ahead of Jackson.

He cannot control what will happen, if and when, Leinster recapture Sexton. That is for another season.

What he can do is restrict his focus to the here and now. He has to move ahead of Gopperth at Leinster by the time the first two rounds of the European Champions Cup come around.

There are half-a-dozen PRO12 League matches between here and Leinster's appointment with London Wasps on October 19th at The RDS. He has the time.

All he needs is the game time.


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