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Tony Ward: Madigan form forces Schmidt into big call

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Ian Madigan’s fine run of form will create a dilemma for Joe Schmidt when first-choice out-half Jonny Sexton returns from his injury lay-off this week

Ian Madigan’s fine run of form will create a dilemma for Joe Schmidt when first-choice out-half Jonny Sexton returns from his injury lay-off this week

Ian Madigan’s fine run of form will create a dilemma for Joe Schmidt when first-choice out-half Jonny Sexton returns from his injury lay-off this week

Could there be a better antidote to all that is going on in this austerity-ridden economy than what transpired in High Wycombe and at the Stoop?

Here was sport doing what it does best – taking us all to a better place. However fleeting, you cannot put a value on the vital part it plays in making day-to-day life more manageable.

Who cares about the Troika when we've got Leinster? Property taxes and water charges disappear off the radar when Munster do their thing.

Okay, I exaggerate a little but tell me that European rugby weekends like this don't lift the morale of the nation. Yes it is an escape from reality, but surely something that makes us feel so much better about ourselves has to be a good thing.

The manner in which Leinster, minus their talisman, and Munster, with their totem very much in situ, went about their business was awe-inspiring.

It was the type of weekend that put Ireland and Irish sport centre-stage again. Whether it stirs our youth towards active interest in Gaelic games, rugby or soccer is irrelevant, but that it might motivate them towards involvement in some sport, any sport, is not.

magnitude

It's why I despair when people denigrate one sporting organisation in favour of another.

What transpired in London wasn't of the magnitude of what was achieved by our boxers in the same city back in the summer, but it was certainly right up there.

Leinster were sensational at Adams Park, again treating Europe to the type of total rugby that is now their stock in trade.

Yet again, it had the stamp of their head coach all over and it enhanced Joe Schmidt's credentials for the Ireland job. Schmidt is not Merlin the Magician but he is the right man in the right place at the right time, and he has the support of the public.

The impact he has had at Leinster has been sensational. The IRFU must do whatever it takes to keep him here beyond 2014.

But one issue he will have in the remaining weeks for the business ends of both the Amlin Challenge Cup and Pro12, is out-half.

Jonny Sexton is still the nation's number one No 10 and will, barring an extraordinary drop in form, be the Lions Test out-half in Australia.

He is set to return from injury this week, but to drop Ian Madigan for the big games to come would be a travesty.

Were the situations reversed, Sexton would be of like mind. But they are not and Sexton – with a first Lions tour at the top of his agenda – wants and needs game time.

I do not envy Schmidt his dilemma on this one. Madigan was imperious, yet again, in the victory over Wasps and how Schmidt handles it will be under the spotlight, particularly given it's the type of hard call he would have to make as Ireland boss.

In terms of Lions selection, Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip certainly did themselves no harm at all on Friday night.

However, at Twickenham, in what was a disappointingly poor Ulster performance, only Rory Best, Craig Gilroy and possibly Tommy Bowe – by dint of his reappearance – provided timely reminders to the watching Warren Gatland, although Iain Henderson again underlined his promise.

Only Best could be deemed a probable tourist from the province that had set the pace for so long this season.

Neil Doak, assistant to Mark Anscombe, had suggested in the build-up to facing Saracens that "if we stick to basics, the win will follow".

In retrospect, it could have been Rob Penney, Simon Mannix or, most particularly Anthony Foley, uttering those pragmatic words because – led by the remarkable Paul O'Connell – that is precisely what Munster did.

O'Connell's name is, given Sunday's performance, chiselled in Lions stone. Such was the substance to this extraordinary display that it could well be as captain, although the leadership case for the other still-active legend, Brian O'Driscoll, remains strong.

Of the Munster contingent, apart from O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo – though, like Bowe, just back from injury – probably in that order, put up their hands for Lions berths.

Donnacha Ryan too – given his versatility – has to be in with a shout.

Following a hugely disappointing Six Nations, it was a good weekend for Irish rugby.

Suddenly, with a semi-finalist in each of the two European competitions and with the realistic possibility of some 10 Irish Lions, it's all to play for in the coming weeks. Recession, what recession?

Irish Independent