Jonny’s Coming Back

Hello everyone. Welcome back! The rugby season is cranking up and the blog will be getting back to its usual schedule after our summer downtime. We’re wonderfully refreshed after the break, thanks for asking.

So… where to begin?

The Indo is reporting that Jonny Sexton is returning to Leinster next season. And while the phrase ‘The Indo is reporting…’ should come with the usual disclaimers, the report appears pretty definitive and a bunch of other news sources have jumped on it. We’d been given a ‘you heard it here first’ last week that the deal was ‘dans le sac’.

It’s impossible to see it as anything other than great news. There has been the odd bout of griping that the IRFU could have saved a packet by leaving him in France where he was doing just fine, but such arguments miss one crucial point. The IRFU is committed to having all the players on home soil, and the model for Irish rugby that has proved reasonably successful since the dawn of professionalism has been to have the best players centrally contracted and playing their rugby for the provincial teams.

The system has its flaws and isn’t perfect, but is founded on the principal that the players’ performance is maximised by managing their gametime and ensuring that the national team’s interests are fed into by the provinces. If you don’t agree with that premise, that’s fine, but be sure to apply the same logic when, say, Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson or Robbie Henshaw are negotiating their next contract. Sexton is arguably the single most important player for Ireland’s World Cup and future Six Nations chances, so if an optimally managed Sexton is just 5% better than he would otherwise be, it will be money well spent.  That’s before we even get into the benefits of visibility of our star players, marketing the game to punters and other intangibles.

We’ve said before that negotiating these high-profile contracts is a thankless job; sign the player and you’ve paid him too much money, lose him and you’re too much of a penny-pincher. So it is nice to be able to say the IRFU should be given a pat on the back for a job well done. The problems arose in the first place because they dragged their heels and looked complacent, giving Racing and other suitors all the time they wanted to sweet-talk the player, but this time they’ve wasted no time, locking things down before the domestic season has even started.

Readers will recall Joe Schmidt’s lamentation during the Six Nations preparations that ‘we have lost control of the player’, and no doubt he has impressed upon those writing the paycheques the importance of keeping the players at home where they can best manage them. Sexton is a card-carrying member of the Schmidt fanclub and it’s easy to imagine Schmidt having a hands-on role in the deal.

So, Ireland will stand to benefit. It’s a World Cup year where the players’ game exposure tends to be managed more strictly than ever. Sexton won’t get the benefit of that over the next nine months, because he won’t be here until next season, but presumably his World Cup build-up and pre-season will be managed by the IRFU now. But the biggest winner by far is Leinster. After all, Ireland still have access to the player and their frustrations in terms of Six Nations preparation time pale beside Leinster’s problem; they lost their most important player. Now they will have him back (in a year’s time) and the knock-on effect should make Leinster a more attractive proposition for other players. A Leinster with Sexton at 10 should be competing for silverware on all fronts.

There will be lots of talk of Ian Madigan being ‘the big loser here’ and it being ‘time to think about his next move’ and so on, but the be-quiffed one and everyone else would be as well ignoring it. He has an entire year before Sexton gets here and should be focusing exclusively on playing as well as he can this season; that means making himself first-choice at Leinster (whether at 10 or 12), continuing to get exposure at test level and securing his place in the World Cup squad, for which there will be significant competition. He’s contracted with Leinster until 2016 in any case, so any long, dark nights of the soul are miles down the road and there is plenty he can do to shape his career in the meantime.

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  1. Agree totally. Great news. And on top of that on Friday it was reported that BO’D is going to mentor Ben Te’o as well as maybe help MO’C here and there with the backs, which sounds like he may very well be easing himself slowly into a coaching career. Happy days for all true believers in the “legacy”. COYBIB&G!!!!

  2. Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

     /  August 25, 2014

    Great news but I see some people are going with the line what about Mads? I mean come on.. Johnny is Top 3 in the world Mads at stages last year mightn’t have been top 3 in Ireland!!! Wake up people!

    • Mads has the potential to be great and has show this if inconsistently. This i and people’s desire to see more of it are what generates the “what about mads” comments. He’s been given the opportunity and has failed to capitalise on it so far. I’m starting to wonder will he really make it. I hope so because he’s a fantastic player and as a ten he has that streak of madness I like to see in players where the opposition are always left guessing.

      • Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

         /  August 25, 2014

        At 25 and considering the opportunities he has got it is unlikely he’ll ever go on to be anywhere near Johnny Sexton.

        • I’d agree with Ireland’s Answer. Big fan of Ian Madigan and he can certainly play better than he did last season, but there remains a wide gulf between ‘potential’, or merely ‘very good’ players and the real elite, which as Ireland’s Answer says, Jonny falls into.

          • I think Madigan, who I am a big fan of also, was somewhat unlucky last season, in that whenever he had a bad game e.g. Munster in Thomond, he was dropped for Gopperth the next match. MO’C would err on the side of caution, which is understandable, rather than allowing Madigan to dig himself back out of whatever hole he found himself in. Compare his situation to that of Keatley, who had an absolute nightmare match up in Ravenhill, worse than anything Madigan produced last season. Penny stuck with him, picked him for the next match and he was the better player as a result – see his performance against Toulon. Neither Sexton nor RO’G were ever the total package from the get go. They had, have had their off days too and learnt from them. Because of the luxury of MO’C having Gopperth, Madigan was not afforded perhaps the space he needed to pin down the 10 jersey. No one’s fault. That’s just the way the cookie crumbled. Was delighted for him though how his season finished in the Rabo and against Argentina.

  3. Len

     /  August 25, 2014

    This news lightened up an otherwise horrible Monday morning (thank you Irish rail and weather). The news about bod coaching Ben Te’o is also welcomed. This might increase the chances of Te’o being more Brad Thron than Andy Farrell.

  4. Eoin

     /  August 25, 2014

    Fantastic news on all round. But spare a thought for poor Jimmy. Serious case of the Monday blues for him I’d say.

  5. D6W

     /  August 25, 2014

    Welcome back, WoC. Happily your return means the new season imminent, and not a moment too soon.
    But are the IRFU really offering a 4 year contract to a man who will be 30 next year, and will be 34 by the time of the 2019 WC? And if so, that does not say much for our development of new players. If we are still reliant on a 34 year old #10 in 5 years time, we will be in real trouble. We really need to do what it takes to turn Madigan, Jackson and Keatly, plus anyone else who puts up their hand, into reliable Test level #10s, instead of putting all our eggs in Johnny’s basket, so to speak.

    • I don’t see how the two nede be mutually exclusive. A four year contract is long, but it seems a concerted move from the IRFU to try and tie players down for longer. That doesn’t mean he has an automatic right to the national jersey for any of that four-year period, whether he’s 30 or 34! If the chasing pack prove themselves to be as good as Sexton, I’m sure they’ll be picked. But 34 needn’t be over the hill, either. BOD won a Six Nations at outside centre at 34, and ROG was still a useful international option at that age.

      This brings us back to All Things Rugby’s comment above. There are three good fly halves jostling for position below Sexton, and hopefully that is soon to beceom four, but there is still a big gulf between them and Sexton. There’s no substitute for world class.

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  August 25, 2014

        Also on the four year contract – Jonny (or his representatives) appear to have been canny enough to get a four year contract offer from RM which set the benchmark for the IRFU. Fair play to him. It’s all worked out pretty well for him – professionally & personally I suspect he’ll look back at the two years in Paris as a massive plus.

  6. I’m really surprised by Sexton’s decision. The estimated money difference is really big. Racing are putting a big, high class squad together. I expected he’s stick with them.

    • My guess is that it was the length of the contract that may have put him off. He was basically giving up on ever playing for Leinster again if he took it and it always seemed like he wanted to finish off his career with Leinster.

      • This is exactly what I thought when I heard RM were trying to tie him down for 4 years. I think he may have stayed for two. He was certainly making noises like he was staying, like wanting to win things once he’d built a relationship.

    • There’s also the family commitment element. Raising a baby in a foreign country with little/no family support is tough – taking a hit in salary for the benefit of having close family around, and being in an environment you know and love is a big sway.

      Remember he never really wanted to go either; IRFU kind of forced his hand and he called their bluff. Looks like Joe has poured honey in the ear of the IRFU treasurer.

      If it ends up happening, this is great news for Leinster and Ireland!

      • D6W

         /  August 25, 2014

        Big “if” though. I would have thought by now some other media outlet would have confirmed the Indo’s story.

  7. Stephen

     /  August 26, 2014

    But, but, Madigan!

    There is a way in which all parties involved can be pleased with this situation (except maybe Racing). Sexton has got a pay-day, both from Racing and in returning to Leinster. The IRFU have successfully negotiated their first major player-loss; hopefully they will carry the lessons of that on in the future cases of (as others have mentioned) Henderson, Henshaw, Conor Murray et cetera. And the Irish rugby fans get the best NH fly-half back.

    Just a pity we don’t get him for a full season before the World Cup . . . I imagine that, should Schmidt stay with us post-RWC15, Sexton will step back and mentor one/two of Jackson/ Hanrahan.

    • D6W

       /  August 26, 2014

      A possible solution for Madigan is to send him to Connacht, while keeping Gopperth at Leinster. This would mean
      1. Ireland will have 4 IQ 1st choice #10s at the 4 provinces
      2. Leinster won’t lose 2 out halves to Ireland camps and games
      3. Connacht will get a good outhalf coming in to his prime who will be pushing for an Ireland place
      4. Madigan will get an excellent coach in Pat Lam who should back him and hopefully help him regain his form and confidence

      • Stephen

         /  August 27, 2014

        The contrarian/argumentative f**ker in me is trying to think of a reason why that’s a bad idea, but I can’t, really. Who do Connacht have at fly-half, in the absence of Parks? Miah Nikora, and Craig Ronaldson. Hmmm. Offload/downgrade Nikora, have Ronaldson as back-up to wee Mads?

        As with too many Irish rugby fans, I’m relatively ignorant of the lower echelons of the Connacht squad, so feel free to tell me if Nikora/Robinson are the heir apparent here.

        • Ian Madigan is contracted to Leinster until 2016, so it is some time before he has to consider his next move. There’s a lot of rugby to be played between now and then and frankly, none of us know what’ll happen during it. Let’s save the ‘Send Madigan to X’ propositions for now and see how he gets on at Leinster.

  8. I can safely say Nikora is the worst player in the league! How he’s a professional is amazing

  9. Basically agree with the consensus here. JS is one of our best and one of our (if not the) most important players, substantially better than anything else we have at 10, great news to have him back (putting aside that my own Pro12 sensibilities lie elsewhere). The four year deal is a long one but if that’s what it took, that’s what it took.

  10. Yossarian

     /  August 27, 2014

    Always amazed by the way the IRFU do contracts. The late discussion(generally just before 6 nations exactly when you don’t want key players focusing on anything except rugby) and the (up till now) short duration of contracts. You can’t legislate for injuries but even if someone is injured they will still be contracted so that shouldn’t be it. Delighted to finally see healy(3 year) heaslip(3 year) and hopefully sexton(4 year) tied down. We need to view these guys as assets not liabilities. Surely with the likes of Kearney etc it can be safe to assume they are going to be part of Irish squads for some time if not definitive starters.

    Also seems too soon for the will he stay, will he go debate to be back!

    • Munstermicko

       /  August 28, 2014

      No Deel,

      Word has it Radge made his pupil stand in the corner during training when word got out he was heading back to the ladies.

      Jonny has to write out “Je suis gras” 500 times before each session and Radge wont call over to Chez Sextons to tuck him in at night and read him a story until he learns his lesson.

      Ragarding what happens to Madigan there are serious talks at work to bring Coffee Society to Galway in time for the 2015/26 season to facilitate a move but progress is slow as the Westies only drink tea.

      I think de Indo will have egg on its face before the week is out when Jonny says he rather stay with teacher radge or go south and succed Wilko as head boy in Toulon.

      Ye cant trust a paper took over the hallowed turf of Musgrave Park!

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