Madigan and Bristol see the light despite dark days

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 07:55
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Ian Madigan signing for English Premiership club Bristol represents a huge gamble for both parties.

The flyhalf hopes it will revive his Test career while Bristol are counting on him inspiring them to an immediate return to the Premiership as Sunday's crushing 24-41 defeat by relegation rivals Worcester hammered a nail into their coffin.

Signing the 27-year-old 31-times capped Irish playmaker - who has fallen behind Paddy Jackson in the pecking order to back-up Johnny Sexton for Ireland - the day after the defeat proved the perfect pick-me up for supporters.

Normally, with relegation looming, one would expect nothing, but doom and gloom at the 129-year-old club.

Instead, the atmosphere is one of sunny optimism and lofty ambitions for the future backed by their billionaire owner Stephen Lansdown. 

Madigan - whose gamble on moving to Top 14 side Bordeaux-Begles from Leinster, and Sexton's shadow, to get more playing time backfired spectacularly - will not come cheap at a reported £430 000 (500 000 euros, $526 000) a year.

Madigan's arrival next season is just the latest high profile signing - none more so than the highly thought-of New Zealand-born coach Pat Lam, who steered unfashionable Irish province Connacht to their first major piece of silverware last season in winning the Celtic League.

Lam's commitment to the club played a large part in Madigan taking his decision despite Bristol's present plight. 

"Bristol Rugby has a clear vision for what they want to achieve and the club's philosophy matches my own ambitions," said Madigan.

"I know the expansive style of rugby that Pat [Lam] and his coaching team want to play and that excites me.

"I was so impressed with the vision that was laid out to me, it made it an easy decision to commit to Bristol."

Unlike other previously relegated clubs - London Welsh being the prime example - Bristol will not wither because Lansdown is not one for walking away.

The 64-year-old and Chairman Chris Booy have been there in worse times. When they arrived in 2009 they paid off the club's debts and saved it from extinction.

Booy is adamant that despite the poor results this season - they lost valuable time in recruiting because they had to come through the play-offs to gain promotion, something which will not be necessary from next season where finishing top will suffice - the future is rosy.

"There's a long-term plan in place here at Bristol Rugby to ensure the club is competitive at the highest level," Booy told the club website.

"With Stephen Lansdown's continued commitment and the infrastructure we have, we are in a very exciting position to move forward.

"In the last six months alone, we have appointed a new, highly successful head coach who will bring his own ideas and culture to our environment.

"In addition, we are in the advanced stages of securing permission for a world-class new training base and we are proud to call one of the finest stadiums in the country our home.

"But in the bigger picture, these [results on the pitch] are short-term setbacks and we must keep pushing forward." 

Lansdown - who made his money from a financial services company that starting trading from his bedroom - is not likely to give up easily as he is motivated to make his birthplace a sporting hub of excellence.

He also owns Bristol City football team and basketball side Bristol Flyers.    

"It's been a sporting backwater for many years and one of the things that always grated with me was the fact that people always took the Mickey out of it," Lansdown told BBC Sport last year.

"Certain comments grate and in my own way I wanted to try to prove them wrong, that there's a passion for sport here - let's bring it to the forefront, shout about it and make it even more successful."

Agence France-Presse

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Dragons v Edinburgh 12 | 25
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