Wednesday 7 December 2016

Leinster coach Leo Cullen hopeful returning Johnny Sexton can ground high-flying Ospreys

Published 22/09/2016 | 16:10

Jonathan Sexton of Leinster during training this week
Jonathan Sexton of Leinster during training this week
19 September 2016; Jonathan Sexton of Leinster during squad training at UCD, Belfield in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Leinster coach Leo Cullen is hoping that Jonathan Sexton's belated return to action following shoulder surgery can inspire his side as they take on formidable early Guinness Pro 12 leaders Ospreys at he RDS on Friday (7.35pm).

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"He has trained well in the last few weeks," says Cullen, whose side have lost just once in their opening three matches.

"With his shoulder, he had to mange himself for a number of weeks and we are looking forward to seeing him in action. The midfield is settled and that should help him.

"Noel Reid and Garry Ringrose (they have started all three league games so far) give us a real threat on the ball, they are smart distributors and they have good rugby intelligence.

"Jamison Gibson-Park took a slight shoulder knock but he is okay. We have only two backs on the bench because Ospreys are going to be physical, we have enough cover on the bench to cover the back-line.

"Mick Kearney and Rhys Ruddock need a few games, we need to try to get the forwards integrated as quickly as possible. Mick McCarthy need a rest, he is one of the older guys.

"The young guys are creating headaches for me, keeping me awake at night but I see it as a positive. There is pressure right through the squad."

Leinster make six changes from the side that won in Edinburgh last weekend. Sexton and Luke McGrath form a new half-back pairing.

Both props are rotated; Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong replacing Jack McGrath and Mike Ross, Kearney steps in for McCarthy while Josh van der Flier replaces two-try hero Dan Leavy, who must settle for a place on the bench.

"We have a lot of respect for the Ospreys. They had a tough season last year but they are out of the traps quickly this year, they have old half-backs and a lot of international experience.

"We need to be smart against them and play against them in the right areas. I'm not surprised they have started so well, you just look at their squad.

"They have been very impressive and it is not shocking they won their first three games. They have a more attacking mind-set too.

"But any time you play at home, you want to lay down a marker. We were undefeated at home in the league last season and that remains important to us. It's a big game against the league leaders and we need every advantage we can get.

"Everyone knows what is at stake. Ospreys did not make Europe and that focuses the mind, we saw the effects of not making the top four a while back. Every point matters and we need to battle for every point."

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