Victor Costello: Leinster should protect Johnny Sexton by giving him rest of season off
Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30
By the time Leinster finish this trio of games against Zebre away next week, the Irish rugby landscape will be a lot different than when they started.
Some might say that the provincial under-performances this season resulted in a poor national team performance and they would be right. As a player, if the provincial season is not working, the international season gives a player a chance to clean the slate and vice versa.
Unfortunately, this year there has been no momentum from either the World Cup or the provincial games that would normally give a player confidence in thinking this would be reignited.
There have been plenty of excuses to explain Leinster's early European exit but since then they have had to scramble to prove the same won't happen next year.
If Leinster can grab any reprieve this season, the immediate future looks bright. The controversial signing of Robbie Henshaw earlier this week more than plugs a hole left by the departed but also forces the dream partnership with Garry Ringrose - one that the Irish management are currently choosing to ignore.
As I said before, contract negotiations can be distracting for all involved, so a quick decision that ends speculation benefits all. With Ian Nagle also on board and likely to partner Ross Molony in the near future, it is imperative that Leinster ride out this short-term barren spell.
Tomorrow's game away to Cardiff comes with two Italian extremes as a backdrop; Cardiff losing in Treviso and Leinster winning comfortably at home to Zebre.
By the end of the Six Nations campaign, Leinster should be comfortable at the top of the Pro12 table. In years gone, going to Cardiff has been a tough outing but with the squad's confidence high, this is a chance of another bonus-point win, weather permitting.
The enthusiasm of the squad was highlighted by keeping Zebre scoreless last weekend and this hunger should be infectious throughout the squad.
Every player will have an ambition to wear the green jersey and maintaining a high level of performance in the day job is step one to getting there. With so many Leinster players on international duty, for those left back at HQ, time is short to make the impression that would warrant selection at the close of the season.
Under normal circumstances, the pressure is on those left at home to step aside but the international attrition rate should give the current team playing for Leinster a longer-than-normal stint in the jersey. Leinster will have to make brave calls when the internationals return. With three more games to come, the injury situation will not improve.
As much as there is a loyalty to those players maintaining Leinster's standing in the Pro12, while the Six Nations is in force, there also has to be an ability to think medium to long term and rest those international players on their return.
Not just the standard one week to recover, I am talking up to three to four weeks and in the case of Johnny Sexton, possibly the rest of the season.
Sexton has been battered around the trenches of international and provincial rugby this season and given that so far nobody has done it, it is up to Leinster, his home province and club, to make the brave call of giving him the rest of the season off.
Not that he will ask for it or want it but he should be told to rest for this season with a long-term view taken for the well-being of him while investing in his future and in the province.