Gordon D’Arcy: Right now, I’d rather be in the Irish system than anywhere else

Ulster plan ahead with Ian Madigan signing but these are very worrying times for rugby

Ian Madigan in action for Bordeaux against Ulster in2017 - he is to join the province on a one-year deal. Photograph: Morgan Treacy

Ian Madigan in action for Bordeaux against Ulster in2017 - he is to join the province on a one-year deal. Photograph: Morgan Treacy

 

Filling our day the only way we know how. Walked both dogs, separately, took the kids on scooter adventures, separately, before making French toast and watching Bambi.

That was 8am to noon sorted.

So far, I’ve resisted torturing the family with a VHS to DVD evolving series charting my career (Chapter one, early days, March 1996: Clongowes Wood College versus Newbridge College. . .).

For now, life is a battle with boredom. We’ll adjust.

We have no idea what is going to happen with rugby. My gut tells me this season is cancelled. Same goes for Ireland’s tour of Australia. The chances of summer travel grow slimmer and slimmer by the day. Just do rough maths on how each country is coping.

Pillars of our sport - like the Six Nations - will reappear but this moment feels like an opportunity to rearrange next season. Current standings are final. No trophy is handed out with the spoils divvied up in order to maintain infrastructures.

Players cannot train as a squad. This is not the job of Leo Cullen and other coaches, more a moment for strength and conditioning experts to shine.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen takes training in February. Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon/Inpho
Leinster coach Leo Cullen takes training in February. Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon/Inpho

Let me flip this global negative into a positive; most players need a break after 2019. Not from the mental scars - forget about them because athletes are like sharks; they keep swimming or die - no, last year’s physical toll was immense. Their bodies need to heal.

Now is also the time to strategise. Big picture planning. The Harvard way is to pick a point on the mountain - here’s where I want to be in three years. That’s the easy part. The difficulty is mapping the route and sticking to it.

Resilience

Ulster under Dan McFarland are thinking like this.

I wonder, if or when, the English season gets abandoned will Pat Lam release Ian Madigan into the care of Ulster.

McFarland has just signed a valuable piece for his puzzle. Bristol have not had much use for Madigan this season anyway. It seemed like he was costing them too much.

The 10 jersey also proved elusive for him in Bordeaux. Mads will have dug deep into his reservoir of mental resilience. I know precisely where he can start to rebuild his career from, whenever he lands in Belfast. It was during that last season under Joe Schmidt at Leinster that Madigan began to shine as a second receiver. He tended to wear 12 or 15 and besides the 80 per cent-plus kicking accuracy his footballing ability was of real benefit as an alternative to the outhalf.

John Cooney drives the Ulster attack from scrumhalf, Billy Burns is a solid 10, ordinary but safe, and then there is Will Addison as a second distributor from fullback.

When all this is flowing, McFarland’s team look the part. Drop Ian into that, be it at centre or the back field and they have another weapon.

Addison is supposed to be one of Ireland’s best players by now but it hasn’t worked out. He is injury prone, unfortunately, and has missed some major opportunities.

I see Madigan, who should be durable for the next four years as he hasn’t played much rugby, coming into the team in three different positions.

An outhalf by trade, he will play thousands of minutes by embracing the jack of all trades role. He may even win that elusive 31st cap.

Joe Schmidt with Ian Madigan ahead of Ireland’s 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Joe Schmidt with Ian Madigan ahead of Ireland’s 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

It is an obvious move for both parties. Presumably the bottom line is why it took until now for everyone to reach an agreement. Ian Madigan has done well for himself in France and England. The rugby side of it may not have worked out but proven international goal kickers are not cheap.

He’s coming back into a familiar system, so it is about legacy. McFarland will have seen the true value of Madigan in a highly structured environment with players running off him. Mads had the vital coach-player relationship with Joe that he will seek to build with Dan (seemingly, he hasn’t had it since Schmidt).

More than anything a nice piece of business has been sewn up by the IRFU. Another Leinster-reared player is making Ulster a stronger group. Everyone’s a winner (short term anyway).

Worrying times

These are truly worrying times for out of contract players. Belts will need tightening. There is a musical chairs feel to it all. Madigan is also a cautionary tale for any Irish players using English clubs as a bargaining tool. The salary cap will be stringently enforced in the coming seasons. The Championship is no longer in the market for Leinster, Munster, Ulster or Connacht spares. Even the French club scene is focusing more on local talent.

This helps David Nucifora in the negotiating stakes. In the same breath, I’d rather be an Irish man in the Irish system than anywhere else right now.

The IRFU need to generate a certain amount of revenue every year to run the professional game. That figure has - at least temporarily - been significantly reduced in 2020. Players will be pressured to sign what is put in front of them. Nobody is threatening a move abroad any time soon. Tough times.

I was lucky to avoid being financially stung by the recession. I signed a deal in 2009 up around market value, just before the crash took hold, and back then I was content to receive a modest increase from contract to contract, knowing bonuses would come from playing a certain amount of games. That was the incentive. When my next deal came about I was 32 and the number on the page dropped significantly. That’s just the way the business works.

Maro Itoje’s proposed move to Racing 92 was blocked. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Maro Itoje’s proposed move to Racing 92 was blocked. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The IRFU’s ability to respond to this crisis is best exemplified by their priorities: top down, the Ireland team feeds all the other stables. In contrast, the English clubs have put the squeeze on their national side by blocking Maro Itoje’s one season switch to Paris. He can still join Racing 92, sure, but he cannot wear the red rose if he does. George Kruis is off to Japan, reportedly. Who’s next from the Saracens squad, Owen Farrell? Jamie George? The Vunipolas?

With the Lions slated to tour South Africa next year, can all these players make that squad if they are not playing for England, or in the Champions Cup?

Other English club owners do not care. They are not going to allow Saracens turn the punishment of relegation into a benefit. Not as long as all those Premiership titles remain in the record books.

No, the IRFU is as safe a house as any at the moment.

The main problem (everywhere) is leaders and managers are struggling to do their job effectively. In work last week I was unable to predict the future with any sort of medium-term accuracy. My answer to most questions was “I don’t know.” That’s the same for Nucifora as it is for Andy Farrell, Cullen and almost everybody.

Social distancing is the priority above all else. That means the gathering of players is a bad idea. Not for physio. Not for weights. Not for ball skills. My only way of getting through 2001 was down to spending large periods of my childhood kicking a ball on my own.

Solitude is an old but loyal friend.

Anyone else forced to social distance young siblings so they do not take chunks out of each other?

Three days in and they have had their fill of each other.

It’s 1:45pm. Do we even own a video recorder anymore?

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