Leo Cullen backs misfiring Leinster and Johnny Sexton to bounce back

Leo Cullen has backed Jonathan Sexton and the rest of his Leinster team to turn the corner after three European defeats that leave them all but out of the Champions Cup reckoning ahead of Toulon’s visit to the Aviva Stadium tomorrow. 

Leo Cullen backs misfiring Leinster and Johnny Sexton to bounce back

The Leinster coach, who is still less than halfway through his first season in charge after Matt O’Connor’s summer departure, has also dismissed suggestions he may be feeling under extra pressure as a result of the province’s poor form.

It has been a difficult bedding-in for the three-time Heineken Cup-winning captain who lost 20 of his players for at least some portion of the World Cup, though he may yet have Cian Healy available to him tomorrow evening.

The loosehead prop looked set to sit out the return against Toulon, and the meeting with Munster eight days later, after yesterday receiving a two-week ban for his reckless collision with Guilhem Guirado last Sunday in Stade Felix Mayol. However, Leinster announced their intention to appeal that decision last night, citing a failure by the independent disciplinary body to follow due process, given Healy was called to answer suspected contravention of Law 10.4 (a) and ultimately suspended under another 10.4 (f).

Leinster are “confident” the appeal will be successful and have asked that his suspension be lifted until the appeal is heard.

Healy’s recent form hasn’t been good, but Sexton’s has been even more concerning with the Ireland out-half enduring a terrible time of it in the south of France last Sunday with some poor kicking from the hand and less than dependable passing with the hands.

Cullen rationalised his struggles by mentioning his recent World Cup disappointment, the injury he picked up against France and the challenge of re-assimilating to life at home after his two years with Racing 92 in Paris.

“He is a class player, there is nothing else you can say about it,” he said of his playmaker. “He has delivered on the biggest stage on a number of occasions. There will always be a finding-your-feet period when he comes back in.”

Sexton’s stutters, allied to ill-discipline that cost 17 penalties and three yellow cards, did for Leinster’s chances last week, but Cullen wasn’t sympathetic to the theory that Leinster’s prospects stand or fall on the famously sloping shoulders of their number 10.

“I don’t necessarily think that, no. That is the beauty of it, of team sport. There is so many different ways to win rugby matches. I don’t think you could ever be reliant on one individual.”

Sexton could certainly do with seeing someone of Sean O’Brien’s calibre back on the field alongside him and the news regarding the Carlow flanker was much better after another consultation with a specialist yesterday over his inner ear problem. It now seems possible O’Brien will feature at some point against Munster this Christmas. He has passed the concussion return-to-play protocols and also took part in a field session yesterday even if he has yet to take part in full contact.

Scrum-half Luke McGrath may well return to the fray for that game in Thomond Park, or for the visit of Connacht to the RDS on New Year’s Day, while lock Hayden Triggs has another six weeks of rehab ahead of him after ankle surgery this week.

Both Cullen and captain Isa Nacewa have been consistent in their vocal belief that the team is “not a million miles away” from clicking into gear. Whatever about that, it is impossible to argue a win against the mighty Toulon would not have a major effect.

“I think it would give a real sense of belief again,” Cullen said.

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