By Brendan O’Brien
Jonathan Sexton will sit out Leinster’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final with Munster on Saturday afternoon but the out-half is not considered a doubt for the decider a week later – should the European champions get there.
Head coach Leo Cullen confirmed on Friday afternoon that the British and Irish Lions tourist, who was injured in last week’s Champions Cup final defeat of Racing 92 in Bilbao, was still feeling some “tightness in his calf”.
Sexton was initially named on the bench earlier in the week but was removed on Thursday when he struggled at training. Ross Byrne takes his place at ten with Joey Carbery, starting at full-back and serving as cover at out-half, too.
Cullen has made six changes to the side that claimed silverware in Spain six days ago. Dan Leavy is one of those to sit this one out, the flanker suffering a tightness in his hamstring. Like Sexton, he is expected to be ready if required next week.
Rob Kearney was described as fit but banged up after the Racing encounter while Isa Nacewa, who was limping heavily with a long-standing knee injury after that game, has recovered to skipper the side from the midfield.
“I've never come across anyone like him, he's an amazing individual and an amazing role-model for the club,” Cullen said of his captain.
“I wouldn't even say just for the players, for anyone that's come across him. Hopefully the boys put in a good performance for him tomorrow.”
Another to miss out is Robbie Henshaw. That was expected and the centre’s knee injury looks like keeping him out of the remainder of Leinster’s league run. Ireland's tour to Australia, though, doesn’t look in doubt for now.
“It's nothing too major, a few weeks,” said Cullen. “I talked to him in the gym today and he's making quick progress. He's nearly happy to go again but it's too soon for him this week. A couple of weeks.”
This game is a sellout with the RDS capacity extended by 630 to 19,000 for the occasion. It is seven years since the rivals met in a knockout game, Munster winning the 2011 Magners league title one week after Leinster claimed a second Heineken Cup.
Cullen is expecting another memorable encounter.
“It means a huge amount, there's a tour coming up to Australia and everyone is going to be pushing for selection for that - the ones that are qualified at least. They're special games to be part of.
“I was talking to Scott Fardy out on the pitch: this is why he wanted to come to the club to play in games like this. He'd seen Leinster v Munster games in the past, they're talked about around the world.”
Cullen also confirmed that Leinster will be seeking a replacement for attack coach Girvan Dempsey, who is leaving this summer for Bath, and for Nacewa, who is retiring and returning home to New Zealand.
Leinster: J Carbery; J Larmour, G Ringrose, I Nacewa (capt), J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Conan. Replacements: J Tracy, C Healy, A Porter, S Fardy, M Deegan; N McCarthy, R O’Loughlin, B Daly.