Jonathan Sexton’s return to Leinster was treated as a celebration but the writing was on the wall for Ian Madigan as soon as the news broke that one of Ireland’s favourite sons was due to return home.
Who can blame Madigan, therefore, for wanting to move elsewhere. By joining Bordeaux-Bègles the 26-year-old will finally gain the regular stint at fly-half that he craves.
Madigan was visibly emotional after Ireland’s World Cup win over France, and while he explained that the incredible support and presence of his parents in Cardiff were behind his display of passion, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine those tears representing the weight being lifted off his shoulders.
After all, Madigan had replaced an injured Sexton and delivered when his country needed him most, proving that he could be a Test fly-half under huge pressure.
Ireland’s exit a week later in the quarter-final has been partly pinned on Madigan’s lack of experience as a starting number ten, something that by moving to UBB he will gain by the spade rather than being shifted to inside centre or even full-back where he has seen time with Leinster.
That lack of minutes in his desired position together with a congested pecking order at Leinster have always meant that his exit was inevitable. Sexton’s return was just the final push.
Looking ahead, Madigan will join one of the Top 14’s most exciting sides, who appear to be firmly on an upward curve under Raphaël Ibanez and his assistant coaches – familiar names in Joe Worsley, Emile N’tamack and Bruce Reihana.
UBB are now partly backed by a Hong Kong investment company and have shown their hand with the signings of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Sekope Kepu following the World Cup.
Madigan will slot into a back-line already packed with talent in the shape of Yann Lesgourges, Metusiela Talebula and Ashley-Cooper, while young forwards Loann Goujon, Julien Le Devedec and Jefferson Poirot all hold huge promise.
UBB are sitting pretty in the top half of the Top 14 and with Lionel Beauxis now over 30, Madigan’s timing couldn’t be better. This is a team going places fast, perhaps on the verge of adding their missing piece of the puzzle. Madigan’s preference to play up on the gain line and with plenty of zip seems perfect on paper to create chances for those dangerous UBB backs at his disposal.
It’s no secret that the IRFU were eager for Madigan to stay in Ireland and move to Munster – which always felt a little off – and that offers from Bristol and Harlequins were on the table. But it takes something special to trump spending part of your career in France on a reported salary of €500,000.
Leinster also stand to benefit from Madigan’s move if he decides to return to the Irish capital when his contract with UBB comes to an end in two years’ time. Sexton by then will be 33, Madigan in his prime.
Leo Cullen’s hint that a Madigan return could happen in the future was far from subtle, but perhaps just what Leinster’s supporters need to hear in a season that has on balance thus far been a disappointment.
As much as Leinster will miss losing another match-winner, Madigan’s move to Bordeaux-Bègles already feels like one of the most anticipated of the year.
Ben Coles, Pundit Arena