Leinster targeting Northampton Saints clash for Johnny Sexton return

Leinster hope Jonathan Sexton will be available to face Northampton in the Champions Cup on December 9, despite Ireland coach Joe Schmidt’s calls for the fly-half to be given an extended period of rest to recover fully from his ongoing injury problems.

The province’s backs coach Girvan Dempsey accepts Schmidt has the power to overrule Leinster’s plans for Sexton.

And he acknowledged there will be discussions between Leinster and the IRFU in the coming weeks, emphasising that the player’s welfare will always be the priority.

“I assume there are a lot of parties involved. Johnny and the medical staff, and the coaches and all. That’s potentially what he (Schmidt) means by those [comments],” said Dempsey at Leinster Rugby HQ yesterday.

“From my perspective, that is a smart thing to do. No matter what player is under our care, we want to make sure he receives the best medical care. The best player welfare, the best management. We don’t want any player playing through injury. That’s not something that happens. We make sure we consult with the best doctors and consultants out there, whether they be in Ireland or the UK, wherever. Ultimately we want to make sure the players are fit and performing for us. Johnny has been very good for us. We’re hopeful that he’ll come through this quickly and that he’ll be back for us very soon.”

With five games to contend with in December alone, Leinster will be keen to have Sexton available.

And while accepting Schmidt could have the final say, Dempsey revealed Leinster are hopeful of his return in time for the Northampton tie.

“Potentially [Schmidt could overrule]. It will be discussed. I think ultimately that’s what it has to be. It has to be making sure what’s in the best interest for Johnny, at the end of the day, because you don’t want Johnny to be playing through injury and stuff like that.

“We’re hopeful that he could be back available, depending on how the rehab goes this week and early into next week, for selection for Northampton. That’s our target at this current moment in time.”

Even if Leinster and the IRFU disagreed about the precise date for Sexton’s return, Dempsey says the player would have the power to make himself available for action.

“If any player is fit, he’s passed all the required return-to-play protocols or markers. In terms of how many metres they’ve got to run, how many high-speed sprints they’ve got to achieve, change of direction, kicking... There’s a whole list of criteria that he has to go through and tick all the boxes on that.

“If he ticks all those, he’s passed fit. If you’re fit, any player would want to play. That’s what you do. You want to play in big games, and you want to play rugby, because that’s what you love and that’s what you’re employed to do,” Dempsey added.

Sexton will certainly sit out Leinster’s clash with Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS on Saturday evening.

Dempsey said: “At the moment, what Johnny has is a hamstring injury to his right hamstring. He’s started the rehab programme, he’s started working with the physios and he’s seeing some external experts on the issue, so we’re hopeful that in a few days, once he starts that programme, we’ll hopefully see some return and some response to those and he starts improving. Then we’ll reassess him at the end of the week and make calls from there. Depending on how he gets through that, with a view to training next week.”

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