Leo Cullen plays down Johnny Sexton’s absence

Leo Cullen has played down fears of Johnny Sexton being forced to take an extended break from rugby, with the Leinster head coach suggesting the 31-year-old will be out of action for around three to four weeks.

Sexton’s future and fitness have been the subject of speculation since Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt suggested that the out-half may need time out from competitive action following a run of injuries.

Cullen yesterday confirmed that the Dubliner suffered a grade one hamstring strain in last month’s Guinness Series loss to New Zealand, with that injury coming just two months after Sexton’s return from shoulder surgery and a previous hamstring problem.

While Schmidt’s comments had led to speculation that Sexton could spend an extended period on the sidelines, Cullen hinted at yesterday’s Leinster media briefing that the out-half is more than likely to be out of action for around a month.

When asked if Sexton is likely to be out for around three to four weeks rather than a longer period, Cullen said: “That’s exactly it — it’s just to try and get his body right.

“It’s not like Johnny’s going to go off and do the Camino or whatever else it is people do,” continued the Leinster coach, jokingly referring to the famous European walking trail.

“It’s about trying to make sure next time he comes back and plays, whenever that may be, he’s in the best possible shape,” added Cullen, who confirmed that there has been a ‘combined approach’ between Leinster and Ireland in an effort to get the out-half back to full fitness.

“There’s a lot of joined-up thinking. He’s one of the key assets in Irish rugby, one of the most important guys,” said Cullen. “But at the end of the day, the most important thing is what’s best for Johnny.

“There has been several discussions. What we’re trying to get to the bottom is, we just want to know what’s right for Johnny, how do we make him stronger and more resilient.

“I hear talk about his resilience and his injury profile, but you think of the amount of games he has played, roughly 250. It’s a lot of games.

“If he takes a week or takes three or four weeks, whatever the case may be, we’ll just do what’s right by Johnny,” added Cullen, who explained that Sexton has been undergoing rehab work at the Santry Sports Clinic.

While Sexton is not a part of the Leinster squad that will meet Dragons at the RDS tonight (7.35pm, TG4), he now looks highly unlikely to feature in next week’s European trip to Northampton.

But Cullen played down the fact that Sexton is on the sidelines once again.

“Johnny’s just one of a number of guys who we’re trying to manage back, I know there is huge scrutiny because he’s such a huge player for Leinster and Ireland, but we’ll assess him like we will all of the other players,” said the Leinster coach, who has rested his frontline internationals for tonight’s game.

In Sexton’s absence, Joey Carbery starts at No 10 this evening while Luke McGrath and James Tracy also come into Leinster’s starting XV having picked up their first Ireland caps in the Guinness Series.

Isa Nacewa has tended to take up kicking duties when Carbery has started in recent games for Leinster and the Blues captain insisted that a call will be made today on who takes up that responsibility against Dragons.

“We do what’s right for the team on the day. We both kicked well out there [at training],” said Nacewa.

“Myself, Joey and Emmet Farrell, kicking coach [will make the call]. We discuss things regularly,” added the captain, who was full of praise for 21-year-old Carbery following his rapid rise in recent months. “He’s flying along, he’s so confident in everything he does at the moment,” said Nacewa.

Leinster (v Dragons):

Kirchner, Byrne, O’Loughlin, Reid, Nacewa (c), Carbery, McGrath; Dooley, Tracy, Bent, Molony, Triggs, Ruddock, Leavy, Conan.

Replacements:

Strauss, Porter, Loughman, McCarthy, Deegan, Rock, Byrne, Daly.


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