Leo Cullen backs Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien to come through 'physical' Montpellier test
Leinster coach Leo Cullen is confident Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien can get through their return from injury against Montpellier on Sunday.
The former second-row has recalled the Ireland and Lions duo for a daunting round two clash at the Altrad Stadium against a powerful Top 14 side packed with international talent.
Sexton came through this morning’s training session at UCD without a problem after missing last week’s win over Castres with a hamstring problem.
O’Brien hasn’t played for the senior team since tearing his hamstring off the bone during Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to France in February, but has been training fully for a number of weeks and got through a half against Richmond in the British and Irish Cup last weekend. Cullen believes he is ready to slot in for Rhys Ruddock.
The coach has changed his entire front-row for the clash, including Cian Healy, James Tracy and Mike Ross in place of Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin who are on the bench and the injured Tadhg Furlong.
Mike McCarthy comes into the second-row alongside Devin Toner, while O’Brien joins Josh van der Flier and Jamie Heaslip in the back-row.
Sexton’s return sees Joey Carbery drop to the bench, where Cullen has opted to select six forwards for added impact.
“We’re just trying to reintegrate Johnny, you're never 100% sure how he's reacted and he's very positive since he ran last week,” Cullen said of his out-half.
“He came through the steps this week and the fact it's a slightly longer week has helped as well. He trained fully this morning and he's good to go we hope.
“It's always a difficult one trying to reintegrate a guy who has been out (like O’Brien), coming off surgery and coming back in.
“The ‘A’ game was a good hit out for him, 40 minutes, and he's trained the last three or four weeks as well.
“We've been very cautious in the way we've reintroduced him. Then you're wondering do you start him or put him on the bench but he has to come back into the group at some stage.
“When Robbie Henshaw came back in, it's different for backs and forwards. It will be a big asking stepping into a physical environment I would imagine.
“Montpellier are a big, strong team but Seany is a big, strong guy so hopefully he'll go well.”
Although they secured a bonus point win in their opening game against Castres, Cullen sees plenty of room for improvement this weekend.
“We were pleased with the outcome but watching the game back – and even watching our A game as well from last week that we played against Richmond – we had a big score, but straight away you’re looking at all the opportunities you didn’t convert and asking why we didn’t convert them,” he said.
“That’s been a big focus for us this week and all the time we’re just trying to get better, so whether that delivers the actual result you can’t exactly guarantee what our opponents are going to deliver.
“We just need to focus on how we get better as a group. I think we’re making some good progress in that regard but the exciting thing for us as coaches is that we see a huge amount of more potential in this group of players.
“Across the board, Montpellier are a team with a huge amount of resources so they’ve gone out and they’re buying international players from the top shelf so there’s no shortage of quality there.
“Francois Steyn, we would be a little bit aware of, he played for Racing Metro a few years ago in the RDS. A player we’ve seen with a huge amount of experience.
“(Nemani) Nadolo on the wing obviously for Fiji, they’ve got a lot of quality up front with a physical front five. Paul Willemse, (Jacques) du Plessis in the second row has really strong carries for them. We’ve had good prep’ this week and I think we’re up to the challenge.”
Leinster: (15-9) Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (capt) Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; (1-8) Cian Healy, James Tracy, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Sean O'Brien, Josh van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: (16-23) Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Michael Bent, Mick Kearney, Jordi Murphy, Dan Leavy, Jamison Gibson-Park, Joey Carbery.