A penny for Johnny Sexton’s thoughts; no sooner had the Ireland out-half bid farewell to Aviva Stadium, James Haskell and Joe Launchbury, than he’s planning to go through it all again.
The Leinster star returned to the province’s HQ in south Dublin yesterday, without any clear signs of the battle he’d come through on Saturday, where Haskell and Launchbury were two of the primary enemy combatants.
At Leinster’s UCD base, they’re planning for Saturday’s Guinness PRO12 encounter with Cardiff Blues, but the visit of Wasps on Champions Cup duty the following weekend is the most important sight on the horizon.
England trio Haskell, Launchbury and Nathan Hughes, who all featured on Saturday, will return to Dublin 4 with Wasps, where they’ll be ready to target the opposition No. 10 all over again.
“I’m sure that Wasps are going to want to put as much pressure as possible on him,” said John Fogarty, the Leinster forwards coach.
“In those biggest games, there’s going to be a limited amount of time when you can get the ball in your hand and out of your hand. You want to put Johnny under pressure because he’s key to our attack.
“I’d like to think we have other players in our system that we can rely on to attack as well, and I think that when we play Wasps, hopefully we’ll be able to attack through Johnny and through other players on the field, and take good pressure off him.”
Haskell, who relished the physical battle on Saturday, made his presence particularly felt with a fierce early tackle on Sexton, one of a few big hits in the first half that caused Ireland skipper Rory Best to make his concerns clear to referee Jerome Garces.
“He shipped a few knocks. Six was it? I think a couple of them were questionable,” Fogarty said.
“The [Maro] Itoje one is questionable. I think the Itoje one is probably one that was a bit too much.
“If we feel that it’s happening in a game, we can influence our players, our captain, to have a chat.
“Rory did that very well at the weekend, him saying: ‘I have a duty of care to our players’ — that was great to hear. And he does.
“That would be the same for us, but certainly from a coaching point of view we’re not going out there petrified that Johnny is going to be hit, and we’re not trying to take care of Johnny. Johnny is playing a long time.”
Sexton was knocked down, but he got up every time, playing 80 minutes for the first time since last October.
Fogarty was impressed by the player’s determination, but not surprised.
“I’m happy he got up every time,” he said. “Johnny is an incredibly competitive person. He wants to stay on the pitch and play every minute if he can. He’s a hugely influential player and he did a great job over the weekend. He took a few bangs but that’s the nature of the game as well. We’re certainly not cribbing at all and I don’t think Johnny cribs.”
Leinster know Sexton will be a target for Wasps, but nobody at the club has any intention of telling him to change how he plays.
“I think that’s just the way it is,” Fogarty said, “I don’t know about the other No. 10s, how often they were hit, but Johnny has a real feel for the game. We want him to take the ball to the line at times — late cuts, late footwork at the line. It’s very, very hard to defend.”
Having missed the England game, Rob Kearney is a doubt for Wasps and will see a specialist this week to assess the extent of his injury.
Jamie Heaslip, also absent last Saturday, faces a medical assessment for a lower back issue and may need some time out.
“Those two boys and a few others will be stepping back and taking a break for a few minutes, because they know that there are big days ahead of us here in Leinster,” Fogarty said.
It was not all doom and gloom with Josh van der Flier returning to training, albeit in a protective ‘suit’, while Sean Cronin took full part in a scrummaging session last Friday. Isa Nacewa trained last week and will be assessed ahead of the Cardiff game.
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