After much speculation, Leinster Rugby yesterday confirmed that Jonathan Sexton passed his Head Injury Assessment (HIA) following his early withdrawal against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday afternoon.
He is now expected to be fit for Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Wales.
Earlier reports suggested that Sexton had failed his HIA after suffering a clash of heads at the weekend. Leinster head coach Leo Cullen confirmed as much in Coventry, but he changed tack two days later by stating that the player’s absence from the field of play was a precautionary measure.
It is an unusual sequence of events, but a subsequent statement from the IRFU confirmed that Sexton had “passed HIA 1, HIA 2 and will complete HIA 3” today. The Ireland team is currently in camp preparing for the championship.
Cullen said: “Johnny, a lot of talk about that since the weekend. He got a bang when he clashed heads with Brendan Macken. He went off and did his HIA, passed the questionnaire, but the medics weren’t fully happy. That’s why he didn’t return to the field.”
Recent events have prompted Leinster’s approach, it seems.
“We’ve lost a player this year to retirement, Kevin McLaughlin, so we’re ultra-cautious. It’s important that everyone is really aware of that fact. The player welfare, it’s really important to us. He clashed heads, he’s got a bit of slight inflammation on the side of his head, so that’s almost enough.
“Johnny could have gone back on because he passed his questionnaire. He went through that fine so he’s in camp with the Irish management this week and their medical team will get him back involved with training in the appropriate manner.
“I know there was a bit of hysteria around this, but he’s being managed as best as possible.”
With Sexton suffering four concussions in the past (and spending three months on the sideline prior to last year’s Six Nations Championship due to enforced protocols in France), the concern surrounding the 30-year-old fly-half is understandable.
His importance to Joe Schmidt’s side was put in context yesterday by Neil Jenkins, the legendary Welsh ten and current skills coach to the national side, who claimed Sexton’s absence would be a hammer blow to Ireland’s Six Nations chances.
“Johnny is a world-class player, there is no doubt about that,” said Jenkins. “He had a head knock on the weekend and he’ll go through the right protocols and they’ll do their utmost to get him on the pitch.
“I have no doubt it will affect them but they have some good replacements there if he doesn’t make it. Ireland would lose Sexton’s all-round game. He’s very good defensively. He’s incredible at making good decisions and he’s got a very good kicking game that can trouble you.
“He offers that balance to a game that puts teams under pressure. He’s a world-class number ten and he’s a threat to any side.”
In addition to the clarification on Sexton’s latest injury problem, it was also announced yesterday afternoon that Leinster and Ireland tighthead prop Marty Moore would, despite a rumoured pitch from Joe Schmidt to stay in Dublin, be joining Wasps at the end of the current season.
Moore will not feature for Ireland in the Six Nations after sustaining a hamstring injury against his future employers last Saturday. His place in the squad will be taken by Connacht’s Finlay Bealham whose clubmate Rob Henshaw reported no reaction on his return from injury at the weekend.
Moore underwent a scan yesterday and it revealed a grade two hamstring injury that will see him miss the next six to eight weeks while Cullen also offered an update on Isa Nacewa as well as Ireland regulars Mike Ross and Cian Healy.
“Isa Nacewa last week had a small procedure done to his knee, so he’ll be out for two to three weeks. Of some of those other players, Mike Ross, Cian Healy, they are rehabbing away after a couple of niggles and are probably a couple of weeks away yet,” Cullen added.
Meanwhile, Wales have received a huge boost after a Rugby World Cup hampered by injuries. Star full-back Liam Williams will play for the Scarlets this weekend before returning in Dublin and captain Sam Warburton will get more game-time after he returned from an ankle injury last weekend.
“Liam Williams is likely to play for the Scarlets this weekend, he needs game time,” said Jenkins. “We’ll see how he comes through that and, if he plays the full game, then we’ll have discussions about Ireland.
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