Sexton blow opens door for Carbery
Hamstring injury rules Ireland playmaker out of European opener as rookie out-half takes centre stage
A hamstring injury suffered by Johnny Sexton has catapulted Joey Carbery into the front line of Leinster's European assault against Castres this afternoon.
The New Zealand-born out-half makes his Champions Cup debut at the RDS having made his breakthrough in the Pro12 earlier this season.
Leinster are on a mission to restore their reputation in the competition they won three times between 2009 and 2012 after a historically poor campaign saw them crash out at the pool stage last season with just one win to their name.
Having lost Ian Madigan - who starts for Bordeaux against Ulster tomorrow - head coach Leo Cullen is reliant on a trio of inexperienced pivots to cover his most important player this season. Sexton was man of the match against Munster last weekend, but suffered a facial injury that forced him off during the second-half.
According to Cullen, he felt his hamstring in training and was ruled out as a result.
The former second-row hopes to have his key man back for the away trip to Montpellier in eight days' time, but for now he wants Carbery to be his side's surprise package against the French.
"There will be a bit of unpredictability, I guess. They won't know Joey as well as they would have known Johnny," he said. "Joey has gone well, he's run plenty in the team over the course of pre-season. He's done a hell of a lot more than Johnny has done. It is what it is. We're happy with he guys that we have.
"At some stage those young guys have to step up. Joey's come in this season and we're happy with the way he's come through."
Cullen has opted not to rush Sean O'Brien back to first-team action and the Ireland star will make his return from a long-term hamstring injury for Leinster 'A' alongside Jack Conan away to Richmond this afternoon.
Sexton wasn't the only major injury blow for the provinces who open their Champions Cup campaigns this weekend, with Keith Earls ruled out of Munster's daunting trip to Paris tomorrow after failing to recover from the concussion he suffered against Leinster.
Springbok Jaco Taute starts in his place, while Dave Kilcoyne has recovered from his head injury in time to come in for the suspended James Cronin.
A calf injury means Dan Carter has not been included in the Racing 92 side that will face Rassie Erasmus's men.
Ulster are without star man Charles Piutau for their trip to face Madigan's Bordeaux after he failed to recover from concussion, but Ruan Pienaar, Franco van der Merwe and Andrew Trimble return to Les Kiss's side.
Connacht open their campaign against Toulouse at the Sportsground this evening and Pat Lam has opted to bring Quinn Roux into his team in place of Ultan Dillane who is joined on the bench by the returning Kieran Marmion.
Last season no Irish province managed to qualify from their pool.
According to the bookmakers, Leinster are the best placed to mount a challenge this time around and full-back Rob Kearney believes they still have what it takes to take on and beat the best Europe has to offer.
"There's a huge amount of excitement this year. The atmosphere around the club is really strong and I think that's something that can never be underestimated," he said.
"It's a happy place to be. We're winning games. We're playing well, but guys recognise that there is still a huge amount more to give.
"We really do feel that if we do get to that place where our potential is that we're well able to compete with the very best in Europe."