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Sexton always right in the line of fire

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Jordan Larmour of Leinster celebrates with Jonathan Sexton (top) after scoring his side’s third try during the Guinness PRO14 match against Edinburgh at the RDS

Jordan Larmour of Leinster celebrates with Jonathan Sexton (top) after scoring his side’s third try during the Guinness PRO14 match against Edinburgh at the RDS

Jordan Larmour of Leinster celebrates with Jonathan Sexton (top) after scoring his side’s third try during the Guinness PRO14 match against Edinburgh at the RDS

There will be many times this season when one man goes down and the eyes of the public will stay right there where he lies motionless on the ground.

The play will go on, passes will be made, balls lofted to the sky, bodies crunched together and even tries taken. All the while, the cameras and the crowd will never lose sight of the man on the floor.

Jonathan Sexton is that important to what Leinster and, more importantly, Ireland have to do this season and at the beginning of next season in Japan.

Last week, Wales international Ross Moriarty cynically put his shoulder into Sexton late for a yellow card.

On Saturday, Scotland international Magnus Bradbury was legally committed to the hit that shook up Sexton in Leinster's 31-7 victory over Edinburgh.

The out-half, like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the pocket, waits as late as possible to swing the ball, putting his receivers, or outside backs, in the best position to make something happen, all for the greater good.

Veteran

The veteran playmaker puts his body on the line so that Leinster can get over the line.

"It really matters to those guys," said coach Leo Cullen. "They want to represent the team and create those moments that people are happy to pay into the ground to see. So that's the game. It requires that level of physical commitment and Johnny delivers on that better than anyone."

There will be a price to be paid somewhere along the line. You can't keep tempting the beasts with bad intentions that roam this game without suffering for your art.

The 33-year-old is not bulletproof and the heavy shots that come at Sexton are often delivered when he is not fully braced for the impact.

However, you can't ask a Lion to be a lamb; you can't take away or even dilute the competitive juices that flow through his body.

Sexton wasn't the only one to suffer consequences. James Ryan looked decidedly groggy when immediately rescued from the action in the 20th minute, never to return.

"James was removed by the medics, so if he's been removed by the medics, that's a Section One. If you're removed with a Section One you don't do a HIA," explained Cullen

Flanker Dan Leavy took an elbow to the chin from prop replacement Pierre Schoeman which was serious enough to warrant a red card from referee Dan Jones in the 71st minute.

Both of them are unlikely to be risked against Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday.

The mantra of all coaches is that every enemy will bring real physicality to the table.

In fairness, Edinburgh must rank as the most horrible hombres to play against in the Guinness PRO14, quite simply because they play the hardest.

"If you look at their games, they went away to Ospreys, they were attacking the Ospreys right at the very end when they missed out on a pretty marginal call. They were in a maul and the referee rewards the Ospreys at the end of that game," said Cullen.

"In their game against Ulster, the penalty at the end was one of those ones where I'm still not sure if it was a penalty or not, depending on who you talk to. So they lose that game as well on a very, very tight call.

"Then, for the first 50 or 60 minutes against Connacht, they were very, very dominant - 80 per cent territory and a hell of a lot of possession.

"So, yeah, they're a very, very difficult team to play against, well coached, well organised, a lot of international players. They're going to be a handful this year."

As it stands, the reigning champions hold a one-point lead over Ulster in Conference B with three wins from four rounds.

They are building nicely for what is an important block of four games from two inter-provincials, away to Connacht and at home to Munster, ahead of the opening two rounds of the Heineken Champions Cup at home to Wasps and away to Toulouse.

Progress

"Yeah, there's lots of bits of our performance that we can get better at, so we'll try and pull that apart. We're still a work in progress so we'll just try and get better every week," said Cullen.

The coach was as cautious as ever in guarding against complacency and didn't have to look too far back to remind everyone of how a marginal drop in standards can lead to a surprising drop of points.

"You see some of the results over the weekend," he stated.

"Cardiff had come off the back of losing three games by a combined score of five points, very tight losses, and they put on a big score in the Munster game.

"Then Glasgow, who won all their games, play the Southern Kings, who lost all theirs, and it's 31-0 to the Kings after 50-60 minutes or so.

"So much comes down to the day so you have to make sure you do everything in your power to be ready on the day, in terms of preparation.

"Any of the teams are capable of delivering performances."

Cullen has known the ups and downs of the game; he will do everything in his power not to let Leinster's culture for winning slip again.

In the other corner, Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill was as honest in his appraisal as he was as a teak-tough hooker for Leicester Tigers and England.

"They just kept coming, didn't they," he reflected. "They're accurate with the ball. They're good with their carry, their clean-out. They're good everywhere across the field and when they get their chances they take them.

"We defended manfully, the red card at the end took a bit of gloss off it, and the last try too. But they know they've been in a contest, don't they? I don't think we got rolled over easily."

"They're a better team than Edinburgh. There's no shame in saying that. They're a very good side, the best in Europe."


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