Johnny Sexton back but cloud remains over Jamie Heaslip

Johnny Sexton will skipper Leinster tonight as four of the province’s British & Irish Lions return to action for the first time this season. 

Johnny Sexton back but cloud remains over Jamie Heaslip

Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong and Seán O’Brien — in an unfamiliar No8 shirt — join Sexton in the starting XV, but there is concern over the continued absence of the man who wore the No 8 so often: Jamie Heaslip.

The Leinster and two-time Lions backrow was left out of Leinster’s Champions Cup squad on Wednesday and yesterday Leinster boss Leo Cullen admitted he had no idea when he will return.

Heaslip has not played for club nor country since injuring his back in March’s Six Nations defeat to Wales in Cardiff and while he took part in Leinster’s pre-season, and was penciled in for the South African mini-tour, but now seems as far away from a return as ever.

“I’m not so sure when we will see him, it will depend if he has to go for another procedure or not,” said Cullen.

“He has to weigh that up with the surgeon and the specialist that he’s seeing.

“That will be the decision he’ll have to come to himself.

“He had a disc problem with his back, you have a disc leak when you have a microdiscectomy.”

Cullen knows what Heaslip is going through, having experienced the very same injury over a decade ago.

“I had this stiffness in my back that was gradually building up and I was literally lying at home watching rugby,” he said.

“I remember ringing Arthur Tanner, who was our doctor, on the Sunday morning of the game and said, ‘Arthur, I can barely move my back here’, and that’s how suddenly it had come on for me’.

“I didn’t have surgery on it, and I still feel the effects of it now — and that was back in 2005. So it’s what, over 12 years ago and I still feel the effects of that. They’re tricky injuries.”

Cullen asked for patience from Leinster and Ireland fans over Heaslip’s delayed comeback, but has no doubts over the flanker’s eventual return.

“It’s a difficult time for Jamie because of that uncertainty, so that’s the way it’s going to be unfortunately,” he said.

Sexton captains the side from out-half, where the 32-year-old could oust Felipe Contepomi as the province’s all-time points scorer if he ends the game with nine points or more. Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong return to the front-row of a strong pack that includes Scott Fardy and Devin Toner, who missed the tour to South Africa.

Rustiness aside, tonight should be a comfortable return for Leinster’s Lions contingent against an Edinburgh side who have suffered two defeats in their last two outings, against Scarlets and Benetton. The two losses have brought Richard Cockerill back to earth with a bang after two encouraging opening wins. Cockerill has made nine changes to the team that went down 28-8 in the Liberty Stadium last weekend. “We’ve made a few changes, but we have depth across the squad,” he said. “The guys who’ve come in will provide us with competition and I expect them to fight for a place in this team. If we match the levels of desire that were shown against Scarlets last weekend, I have every confidence that we can come away with a positive result.”

LEINSTER:

J Carbery; F McFadden, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney; J Sexton (c), L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, S Fardy; R Ruddock, J Murphy, S O’Brien.

Replacements:

B Bryne, E Byrne, A Porter, R Molony, M Deegan, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, J Larmour.

EDINBURGH:

G Bryce; T Brown, J Johnstone, P Burleigh, D Fife; J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne; D Marfo, S McInally, S Berghan; F McKenzie (c), G Gilchrist; J Ritchie, H Watson, C du Preez.

Replacements:

N Cochrane, M McCallum, K Bryce, A Bresler, J Hardie, N Fowles, B Kinghorn, R Fruean.

Referee:

Ian Davies (WRU).

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