Leinster’s Ian Madigan could be set to replace Sexton for Ireland

Ian Madigan: Leinster’s Ian Madigan could be poised to replace Jonathan Sexton for Ireland’s opening Six Nations clash with Italy next month.

Ian Madigan: Leinster’s Ian Madigan could be poised to replace Jonathan Sexton for Ireland’s opening Six Nations clash with Italy next month.

Six Nations champions Ireland begin a World Cup year full of hope and promise. The fact that the tournament is also close to home also gives added excitement and expectation despite the loss of Jonathan Sexton in their opening game against Italy on Saturday 7 February.

But although a clash against Italy looks like a ideal start to Ireland’s defence of their title, going to Rome is recent times has never been an easy assignment. And the loss of Sexton due to concussion makes that encounter all the more difficult.

However recent form suggests that Leinster’s Ian Madigan might be just the player to emerge as Ireland’s next rugby star with genuine flair. And with Munster’s Ian Keatley also showing growing maturity as well as the return to form of Ulster’s Paddy Jackson Ireland manager Joe Schmidt has a number of options ahead of Ireland’s first post BOD Six Nations clash.

The jury is still out on who will be first handed the former Brian O’Driscoll’s number 13 jersey but Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw is currently showing the kind of promise at provincial level that makes him look like a ready-made replacement sometime in the near future at the very least. But Joe Schmidt’s biggest selection decision must surely be in determining who deserves a first attempt at filling the big boots of the unavailable Jonathan Sexton.

At least the Ireland coach will be best placed to judge Ian Madigan after his Leinster experience and so determine whether or not select a maverick type of player against Italy. Although Schmidt resisted the temptation to play Simon Zebo early in last year’s campaign the former Leinster coach might be prepared to give Madigan his opportunity to get Ireland’s defence off to the best possible start. Leinster’s Ian Madigan has been the fans’ favourite at the RDS this season but the coaching staff have not always reflected the enthusiasm of those in the bleachers that the Blackrock man should always play in the storied ten jersey.

But now Madigan is primed to face Italy next month. He may need to direct the game more assuredly from its inception – a restart out on the full and some injudicious kicking choices from the hand betrays a still fickle temperament in what had been a poor first half from him. Madigan must develop the hard edge to impose his personality from the kick-off.