Can Byrne put the boot into Ulster?
Cullen plays down Sexton fears as he backs replacement to deliver goods
Leo Cullen has moved to allay fears about Jonathan Sexton's ongoing injury issues by claiming the out-half is "okay" despite being omitted from the side selected to face Ulster in this evening's sell-out Champions Cup quarter-final derby clash against Ulster at Aviva Stadium (kick-off, 5.45).
Sexton, who admitted to dipping below the standards reached last season, culminating in a World Player of the Year award, struggled with form and injury during the Six Nations and has yet to appear for Leinster in 2019.
"Johnny just had a bit of tightness this week," Cullen explained. "He played a lot of games in the Six Nations. He's okay. .
"It's a little niggle. It's a muscle on his leg, I'm not quite sure what it's called. It's prudent to rest him because we hopefully have some big games to come as well. So he's okay now."
And the Leinster coach has no qualms about handing Ross Byrne the No 10 shirt for the biggest game of his career. "Ross Byrne has gone well in the games he has played this year as well," he said.
Cullen has also wielded the axe on some high-profile areas in what could be deemed to be a risky selection, omitting full-back Rob Kearney in favour of Jordan Larmour, while rumours of Jack McGrath's departure to today's opponents will surely accelerate after the 2017 Lions star was excluded from the 23 altogether.
James Lowe, Leinster's thrilling winger, also misses out due to the foreign player ruling, with Scott Fardy beefing up a pack shorn of lineout specialist Devin Toner who, along with Robbie Henshaw and Josh van der Flier, are other casualties from Ireland's fitful international campaign.
Cullen's message to those excluded was simple - this is about the squad, not the individual.
"Older guys need to understand their responsibility, how they facilitate some of the younger guys as well. That's what we all have to buy into, it can be hard at times.
"But in terms of the discussions with players, you've just got to tell them that this is the way we think it is, this week.
"These are the areas that if you deliver in training or when you play next, it's a different conversation for the next big game or whatever the next big game everyone is available for selection in."