'There was no talk of surgery' - Leo Cullen backs Johnny Sexton as he makes Leinster return
Leo Cullen has backed Johnny Sexton to hit the ground running as he makes his return from a seven-week way off when Leinster host Zebre at the RDS tomorrow.
The out-half hasn’t played since he was forced off injured in Ireland’s defeat to New Zealand in November and having spent several weeks rehabbing his hamstring issues in Santry Sports Clinic, Sexton’s return is timely ahead of the Champions Cup meeting with Montpellier next week.
Sexton training with Leinster last week and did so again this week as he stepped up his recovery process.
Tomorrow’s game will be just the fifth that the 31-year old has played for Leinster this season but Cullen is confident that the time he spent recovering has helped put him in better physical condition.
“His strength has increased during his time on the sideline, so we'll see how he progresses,” Cullen said at the RDS this afternoon.
"He's been good. Obviously we've been updating on a weekly basis. As you well know he's trained the last couple of weeks, he's been involved with the team so he's good to go this weekend.
"It's no different to any other player that is out injured. It's frustrating because players enjoy when they are playing the game.
“That's why, I'm sure, they started playing the game in the first place. We've several other players out injured but he's back now, another opportunity for him to get back playing and put his case for selection for what's ahead.”
Cullen confirmed that surgery was never an option for Sexton and the Leinster coach is hopeful that his injury problems are now finally at an end.
“There was no talk of surgery, no,” Cullen insisted.
“It's just more in terms of movement mechanics, is probably the bigger issue. Certain players are more susceptible to injuries based on the way they move, and a lot of the time he spent in Santry was in terms of trying to tidy up the way he moves, so he's at less risk in the future. We will see how that progresses.
“It's a challenge for lots of players, as Johnny has played a hell of a lot of games over the course of his career. It's a constant challenge for guys always looking to physically get stronger.
“We'll see how he goes, but we're constantly assessing him. He's come through training well and he's trained well over the last couple of weeks. It's a good gradual progression into playing again.
“We manage all the players differently, so that's just not Johnny. There's other players who don't move as well.
“You're managing their training loads in a slightly different way with the understanding that you have to be able to partake in a good chunk of the team activities.
“But all the players are managed on an individual basis in terms of their athletic development programmes they undertake in the gym or on the field.”
Cullen remained coy when asked about Jamie Heaslip’s future. The Ireland No 8 is out of contract at the end of the season and recently said that he was assessing all of his options but Cullen was tight-lipped about the situation.
“Like would be the case with most other players, we don’t usually discuss them in this forum. Things are progressing well with Jamie and I’ll probably leave it at that.”
LEINSTER: (Leinster caps in brackets)
15. Zane Kirchner (77)
14. Adam Byrne (11)
13. Garry Ringrose (32)
12. Robbie Henshaw (6)
11. Rory O'Loughlin (11)
10. Johnny Sexton CAPTAIN (130)
9. Luke McGrath (62)
1. Cian Healy (164)
2. James Tracy (30)
3. Michael Bent (74)
4. Devin Toner (190)
5. Hayden Triggs (21)
6. Dan Leavy (26)
7. Sean O'Brien (108)
8. Jack Conan (39)
16. Sean Cronin (124)
17. Jack McGrath (104)
18. Tadhg Furlong (59)
19. Rhys Ruddock (122)
20. Jamie Heaslip (226)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (15)
22. Ross Byrne (11)
23. Noel Reid (73)