Sharp Johnny Sexton ready to return

Leinster coach Leo Cullen is confident Johnny Sexton should be fit to feature in Saturday’s New Year’s Eve clash against Ulster at the RDS.

Ireland out-half Sexton has been sidelined since aggravating a hamstring problem against New Zealand last month and his anticipated return will be a welcome boost for Leinster following their Guinness PRO12 defeat to Munster on St Stephen’s Day.

The Blues yesterday reported the 31-year-old’s fitness will continue to be monitored at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry after he took a full part in training yesterday.

“We’re pretty hopeful he’ll come through the week. He looked sharp out there,” said Cullen.

“We have to be constrained in what we can actually do, in terms of team training with a short turnaround, having played [on Monday against Munster], but Johnny was full of life. He is keen to get back involved as soon as possible,” added the Leinster coach, who explained Sexton will travel to Santry for check-ups after training through the week.

“Yeah, and that’s the case with some of the national players and with the Irish medical team as well. He is a nationally contracted player. We want to try and do what’s best for Johnny,” said Cullen.

“But he’s dying to get back involved now at this stage because it has been a frustrating period for him being on the sideline watching his team-mates playing in Europe and on the weekend as well.” Leinster were without a number of frontline Ireland internationals for last Monday’s loss to rivals Munster, but their head coach reckons he will have nearly a full deck to pick from for the showdown with Ulster.

“Most of them are back,” he explained. “You’re trying to manage guys, some guys that would have played during the November series and that played at the weekend will become unavailable,” added the Leinster coach, who should have Rob Kearney available after the full-back yesterday returned to training following an ankle injury.

Ian Nagle was being assessed yesterday having been withdrawn in the second half against Munster for a Head Injury Assessment, but Leinster have no fresh injury concerns following the Thomond Park defeat although Joey Carbery remains sidelined.

The IRFU’s player-management rules dictate internationals such as Jamie Heaslip and Seán O’Brien be rested at certain times and with Leinster having a five-day turnaround between inter- provincials, Cullen fielded what was widely considered to be a weakened team against Munster.

Despite suffering a 12-point loss to their rivals, the Blues coach was pleased by aspects of his side’s display. “We did a review [yesterday] with the players,” explained Cullen. “I thought the effort was really good. We made something like 240 tackles during the game.

“It tells the story really because we probably just absorbed way too much pressure. You couldn’t fault the defensive effort, but Munster just ground is down. We gave away silly penalties which allowed Munster to kick field position. Once they get inside our 22, they are strong. I thought they were very efficient, the way they played. A lot of learnings for players.

“Some young guys, it was a big step up for them and, hopefully, they will be better for the experience.

“There was a couple of points in the game we could manage a hell of a lot better and when we allowed the game to get away from us in that first 15-20 minutes of the second half, we can have some better strategies on how to cope going forward.”

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