Stuart Lancaster says key players not being targeted in a ‘malicious way’

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster has dismissed the idea that teams single out opposing players for malicious treatment after a weekend of Champions Cup rugby which saw both of Ireland’s first-choice half-backs suffer under the yoke of late and dangerous tackles.
Stuart Lancaster says key players not being targeted in a ‘malicious way’

Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton, who has had to withstand sustained physical ‘attention’ from both the French national team and Toulon in the past, was left prostrate on Friday night when Montpellier’s Francois Steyn was red-carded after catching him high and late with a forearm.

Munster’s Conor Murray also had to tread carefully the following afternoon when Glasgow’s Josh Strauss and Johnny Gray launched themselves at the scrum-half as he executed box kicks. Both Scottish forwards have since been criticised for their efforts.

“Not in a malicious way,” said Lancaster when asked whether certain key players had a bullseye on their backs. ”You wouldn’t do it in a malicious way but you might want to try to put more pressure on a certain element of a player’s game.

“It could be a key lineout forward. You might want to try to negate the fact he’s going to try to win all the ball, or you want to try put pressure on the nine at the base (of the scrum) because you know his delivery is not that strong under pressure.

“Or you might want to try to get pressure on a guy’s box kick or whatever. There’s that but I’ve never been involved in coaching in a team or against a team that’s deliberately gone out to injure a player and get him off the field. I’ve never come across that in rugby.” Whatever about intent, the consequences for Sexton were obvious at the time on Friday with the out-half attended to by medical personnel before being removed for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA), which he passed, and being allowed to return to the field.

Leinster have since stood over that HIA after questions concerning its brevity.

Murray also received attention after attempting a tackle of his own against Glasgow and the decision by Munster to allow their scrum-half to resume playing has led to the launch of an ‘Untoward Incident Review’ as rugby authorities zero in on the management of concussion.

The issue of potentially concussed players being allowed to play on was highlighted last month when Northampton’s wing George North was cleared by club doctors after apparently being knocked unconscious during a league game against Leicester.

World Rugby duly expressed their disappointment with the Saints for allowing their play to resume playing while opting against any punishment but the player himself has now hit out at the media coverage of the incident and the subsequent fallout.

“You boys have to get paid somehow so you can make stories up. I’m all right,” North told BBC Radio Northampton. The Welshman sat out a month’s rugby after the Leicester incident but has since featured three times for his club, including last weekend’s meeting with Castres.

Leinster face the same Top 14 opposition in the sixth round of the Champions Cup pool stages on Friday evening in France in the knowledge that hooker Sean Cronin has been sidelined for ten weeks with the hamstring injury sustained this month against Zebre.

That rules out any Six Nations involvement for the Limerick man, though he would be due to make it back in time for Leinster’s European quarter-final at the end of March/start of April. Who they play, and where, depends on events this weekend.

A home quarter-final berth is well within their compass but Leinster await news on Isa Nacewa (dead leg), Robbie Henshaw (tight thigh) and Sean O’Brien (tight calf) before they travel to the continent. Rob Kearney is good to go after his return last week from an ankle problem.

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