Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Posted: November 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

Earlier in the week we discussed what an early exit from European rugby would mean for Leinster Rugby. A number of players will be out of contract and will more than likely be offered more money to ply their trade abroad.

Leinster boss Leo Cullen played in Welford Road for many years before returning to his home club of Leinster and, eventually, taking the reigns. He compared his decision to play in England to today’s game:

“I’d like to think that Leinster is in a completely different place now than what it was back in 2005,” argued Cullen.

“Where we were at that point in time was very chaotic. So I’d like to think the organisation is in a better place to sell itself in terms of what we can deliver for players.

“I went to Leicester for very different reasons. So is it easy for me to talk from a different viewpoint, yeah it is, because it’s completely different. That’s ten years ago.

“And I came back in bits! So I fully understand the physical toll it takes over there. But I’d be very balanced in the advice I’d give to any player who comes and asks for my opinion.”

It’s no secret that the demands of playing club rugby abroad are much harsher than those of playing in Ireland. Johnny Sexton’s move to Racing Metro three seasons ago is proof.

One of the best outhalves of the northern hemisphere was subjected to two gruelling seasons, and had more game time than he would have if he had stayed in Dublin. He was also subjected to a much more physical game. Cullen also made this argument, and urged players to put their welfare before their bank accounts:

“We have a smaller pool of players but the players get better managed here. That’s a fact. For longevity, you would hope guys would look at that.

“Okay, guys might earn more in the short-term. The longer-term view is that you might get another two or three years onto my career. But it is very hard to have your crystal ball out.

“That’s what we’re trying here with the system that’s in place in Ireland. Up until this point, it has worked reasonably well. I’ve been overseas before. You get flogged in comparison. I’ve been through that process.”

Fullback Rob Kearney, whose younger brother Dave is also out of contract soon, backed his coach’s sentiments, and praised the “home comforts” of playing in Ireland:

“We cannot in this country compete financially with foreign countries, so it’s important that there’s strong non-financial incentives to keep us here and, as a player who has benefitted from the management, that is a big thing to keep guys here. It’s important to note that it is working.

“You play with all your friends, we’ve got brilliant facilities. We get very well looked after. We don’t flogged as Leo said. Those sort of things.

“It’s all the softer stuff, aside from money, that are important when you need to re-assess about moving up and going abroad. There is a lot more to it than just the financial incentive.”

The provincial players will now need to look at their futures and what may be best for them, financially or otherwise. But an enormous element of this equation is game time.

JJ Hanrahan, nominated as a Young Player of the Year, is an example. The Kerry native was not being offered game time under Anthony Foley. He was only offered the dying minutes against Saracens in London last season, and this typifies his final season with Munster.

And where is he now? Hanrahan started for Northampton Saints two weeks ago in the Champions Cup, alongside players of the calibre of George North, overtaking Stephen Myler in the race for the number ten shirt.

If Leinster want to avoid the same fate, they need to take a long look at their treatment of Ian Madigan.

Madigan was the second choice outhalf for Leinster behind Johnny Sexton for a number of seasons before Sexton’s Parisian stint. But Madigan, instead of being given the ten shirt, was made understudy to now Wasps’ outhalf Jimmy Gopperth.

With Sexton’s return, he is very much second choice outhalf for Leinster. He is being bounced around the backline, playing at 12 and, against Wasps, 15. Cullen’s reasoning? The same as his predecessor’s: Madigan offers versatility.

“Again, his versatility is a real strength for us as a team. He played a lot of 12 for us last year and a bit at ten and that will be very similar this year.

“We try to have those two receivers anyway so it works quite well with his skill-set and he is really good for us in that regard.”

“It gets him picked more often, that’s the reality. Even though he played as a 12 primarily for Leinster last year, he still stepped in at ten when Johnny went down at the World Cup so is it holding him back? Probably not, would be my viewpoint.”

Madigan proved in the last World Cup that he can play at outhalf and control the game on the biggest stages. Why should he settle for second best or playing out of position? He is not as young as he once was, and regular game time at 10 would see him evolve massively as a player.

Bristol and Harlequins are two clubs which have signalled their intent to snap up the Blackrock man. And with Irishman Conor O’Shea in charge of Harlequins, who are a top side, it could be very much a case of packing up and heading over:

“The appeal of a club like Harlequins is that they are a club that looks to win the Premiership every year. It’s very disappointing that they’re not in the Champions Cup this year. But, I’ve no doubt they will be straight back with their finish in the Premiership at the end of the season. You’ve got an Irish coach there, Conor O’Shea, who plays a very expansive style.

“You’ve got world-class forwards and backs. You’ve got the English captain. You’ve got Danny Care, a quality nine, the likes of Mike Brown, a tried and tested international.

“I think you’d be naïve to rule it out. The IRFU probably want to keep as many players in Ireland as possible. If you are within Ireland, you are giving yourself the best possible chance to be picked for the national team.

“The further you move away, the further you’re hampering your chances of being selected for your country. So, it’s something you have to consider – to keep that option open.”

If Madigan is to keep that option open, Cullen and the IRFU need to resolve their issues quickly. Harlequins could be a fantastic move for a player of Madigan’s potential.

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