IRFU want Ian Madigan to join Munster next season

Ireland outhalf being courted by Bristol, Harlequins and two French clubs

The IRFU want Ian Madigan to join Munster next season. That's presuming they keep the 26-year-old in Ireland by coming close to matching lucrative offers from English and French clubs.

Madigan, who is out of contract with Leinster this summer, is awaiting a formal offer from the union's high performance director David Nucifora after Bristol tabled €500,000 a season for the place-kicking outhalf-cum-inside centre.

Along with that deal offered by billionaire Stephen Lansdown, owner of Bristol Rugby and Bristol City FC, three other foreign clubs are seeking Madigan’s signature. Harlequins currently look the most enticing option as he would be joining an established Premiership club to work alongside Conor O’Shea (Bristol are expected to be promoted from the Championship).

"The English clubs are now in play [financially] which probably wasn't the case even two or three years ago," said Johnny Sexton. "I think players have a decision to make. If you want to be starting for Ireland week in week out and looked after under the Irish system, you obviously need to stay here.


“But there are other guys who need to go and get game time and are obviously not going to get that in the provinces, so you wouldn’t blame them for going abroad and getting that game time, and they might get more exposure there.”

The Irish Times can also confirm preliminary discussions have taken place with Madigan's representative and French clubs Bordeaux-Begles and Montpellier.

Getting Madigan to sign his first national contract and join Anthony Foley’s Munster would mean Ireland’s three outhalves at the World Cup – Sexton in Leinster and Paddy Jackson in Ulster – could all regularly feature in a provincial number 10 jersey next season. Munster lost outhalf JJ Hanrahan to Northampton last summer.

The other major contracts currently being negotiated are Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray, Cian Healy and Seán O’Brien. Henshaw is believed to be Leinster-bound, especially if Madigan went to Munster, with Ben Te’o almost certain to leave the province.

The current exchange rate between euro and sterling (£1 to €1.39) severely weakens the negotiating positions of the IRFU and the provinces, particularly when enticing or keeping foreign players or established internationals.

“It’s different for every player,” Sexton continued. “I can only speak for myself; I had two great years away and really enjoyed myself but the most important thing for me was playing for Ireland and I only realised that when I was gone.

“I wasn’t able to do that to the best of my ability in terms of coming home for Six Nations and going back [to France] for games in between and not getting that rest between Six Nations matches.”

Sexton was asked if a time would come when all Irish players who do go to England or France could expect to be called by the Ireland coach.

“I was very lucky that I was still getting picked when I was abroad but is it worth some guys going and sacrificing two years to get game time? I don’t know. That’s questions for those guys.

“The best place for an Irish international is at home. Hopefully we will retain most of those guys – hopefully all of them.”

Henshaw’s proposed move to Dublin may also indirectly see a loosening of Leinster’s grip on their three international tightheads and overflowing backrow stocks.

Out of contract

Tadhg Furlong is signed up for two years but Mike Ross and Marty Moore are both soon to be out of contract. Last season Moore signed a one-year extension at the same time Ross got a single-season deal despite seeking two years.

However, the expected changing of the tighthead guard has yet to happen with Ireland or Leinster due to Moore’s injury profile and an Indian summer by Ross.

One of them, probably Ross, could move to Galway should Rodney Ah You be redirected to Ulster. Ross is 36 this month but has stated his desire to continue playing next season.

Regarding the Leinster backrow, Josh van der Flier has already made an impression in his first season on a professional contract, while Dan Leavy and Dominic Ryan are also waiting in line behind Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan, Jamie Heaslip, O'Brien and Jordi Murphy.

Leinster have also narrowed down their search for a new scrumhalf to a three-man short list. The main recruiting area is New Zealand with a view to naturalising the player through residency.

Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan are both 35, while 22-year-old Luke McGrath has yet to dislodge the Irish internationals from Leo Cullen’s starting XV.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent