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Byrne out to show he can be perfect 10 to replace Madigan

By David Kelly

Published 30/12/2015

On his way: Ian Madigan is leaving Leinster for Bordeaux
On his way: Ian Madigan is leaving Leinster for Bordeaux

While there will be plenty of gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands at the departure of yet another gilded young Irish talent, at least Leinster can confidently assert that they have some groundwork laid for the future.

Ian Madigan's understandable wish to spread his wings and join Bordeaux is regrettable for many selfish reasons; in truth, there are fewer sportspeople one might wish to pay in and see play. The 26-year-old is capable of anything and hence persuaded punters to part with their hard-earned.

Not everything he does comes off and Irish rugby's historic mistrust of the unpredictable mitigated against over-indulgence in his, admittedly, often wayward talents.

And yet his ledger offers a surfeit of debit; he easily surpasses the requisite percentages for a top-class goal-kicker and the abiding memory of his time at Leinster will be of a game-closer rather than a game-choker.

When he does return to Leinster, as presumably he will at some stage, he will be an even better, more rounded player and personality; until then, Leinster possess a world-class Jonathan Sexton.

Madigan will need to be superseded by a competitive array of challengers to Sexton's pre-eminence; as important as the Irish out-half is to Leinster, the benefit of realistic competition is vital for the province's health.

Leinster have already provided a stern examination of the options available during the World Cup window.

Retired captain Kevin McLaughlin said: "The World Cup period was brilliant in that it allowed us to see some of these guys in high-pressure situations.

"There's the likes of Ross Molony, Cian Kelleher, Garry Ringrose - Cathal Marsh got some game time as well - who stepped up during that period and played some really good rugby. So it's very exciting."

Of the aforementioned, Marsh is an out-half option but McLaughlin was also impressed with another name, that of Ross Byrne, whose exploits with the Ireland U-20 side, albeit a not always consistent bellwether of future fortunes, franked his status as an emerging star.

Byrne admits he has already learned so much from "the best out-half in the world". Now he should get the opportunity to play alongside him.

"When you're watching him (Sexton), you have to admire him," the ex-St Michael's College man said recently. "He's probably the best out-half in the world right now."

The comparisons to Sexton are obvious; Byrne is a supreme goal-kicker, can take the ball to the line at risk of physical punishment and he is unerringly accurate with his touch-finders.

He is built impressively for the modern game, standing 6ft 2in and weighing north of 90kg.

But, as he showed with the U-20s in the Six Nations last spring, he thrives in a free-flowing game where punching holes and finding space, rather than ramming into brick walls at the expense of slow recycling, is the key to unlocking defences.

Belfast Telegraph

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