Saturday 18 November 2017

'It's not as if Johnny is going off to do the Camino' - Cullen

Leinster v Dragons, Live, TG4, 7.35

Leo Cullen: No big secrets. Photo: Sportsfile
Leo Cullen: No big secrets. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

He won't feature against Dragons this evening and his availability for next week's clash with Northampton Saints remains in question, but Johnny Sexton continued to dominate the discussion at Leinster's pre-match press conference yesterday.

Head coach Leo Cullen revealed that the Ireland out-half spent some of this week at the Santry Sports Clinic as he and his employers look to get to the bottom of his hamstring woes.

After Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt floated the notion that the 31-year-old could need some time out in order to get the problem rectified, there has been much discussion about the extent of the break, and Cullen brought some much-needed clarity to the issue yesterday.

Rather than taking an extended break from the game a la Isa Nacewa or Alex Corbisiero, the former second-row foresees his most important player taking three or four weeks to get to the bottom of his issue.

Cullen revealed that Sexton's latest issue is a Grade 1 hamstring strain on his right leg, similar to the injury to his left leg that ruled him out of the win over Castres and forced him off at half-time of the defeat to Montpellier.

The Leinster coach is in discussions with the Union, with whom Sexton is employed, about the best course of action.

"That's exactly it, it's just to try and get his body right. It's not like Johnny's going to go off and do the Camino or whatever else it is people do," he said.

"It's about trying to make sure next time he comes back and plays, whenever that may be, he's in the best possible shape.

"He spent a bit of time out in Santry this week and we'll see how he gets on and get a report early next week and we can make assessments based on that. We just want to make sure he's fully right the next time he plays.

"He's had two hamstring tears or strains, and we want to make sure he doesn't have another one.

"There's a lot of joined-up thinking. He's one of the key assets in Irish rugby, one of the most important guys.

"There's a lot of combined thoughts coming together.

"But at the end of the day, the most important thing is what's best for Johnny. So we need to get to the root of that.

"We've had some of the players coming in and out this week, so obviously you're always assessing guys. Coming in post-November, (there's) different bangs and knocks etc, and Johnny is one of those guys.

"We spend a bit of time outside in Santry as well. Dublin is a small place, so there's no big secrets about it.

"But yes, there have been several discussions. What we're trying to get to the bottom is. . . we just want to know what's right for Johnny, how do we make him stronger and more resilient.

"He's at a stage in his career where there are demands in the game. He's played so much rugby. I hear talk about his resilience and his injury profile, but you think of the amount of games he has played. I'm not sure the exact number, roughly 250 games. It's a lot of games.

"If he takes a week or takes three or four weeks, whatever the case may be, we'll just do what's right by Johnny. He's a key part of what we do here, he's a key part of what Ireland do."

Tonight, Cullen fields a team with just four of the players capped by Ireland in November included as Leinster look to take a win into a pivotal period in their season, with the back-to-back European meetings with Northampton looming large.

With Sexton now a major doubt for those games, the performance of Joey Carbery will be closely watched given the key role he will play at Franklin's Gardens next week.

The Dragons, who have a decent recent record against Leinster, come to Dublin on the back of two wins and will test the home side's depth, with the likes of Zane Kirchner, Isa Nacewa and Rhys Ruddock taking key leadership roles. It won't be easy, but the Blues should have enough.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster - Z Kirchner; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid, I Nacewa (capt); J Carbery, L McGrath; P Dooley, J Tracy, M Bent; R Molony, H Triggs; R Ruddock, D Leavy, J Conan. Reps: R Strauss, A Porter, J Loughman, M McCarthy, M Deegan, C Rock, R Byrne, T Daly.

Dragons - C Meyer; P Howard, T Morgan, J Dixon, A Warren; A O'Brien, T Knoyle; P Price, E Dee, B Harris; N Crosswell, R Landman; L Evans (capt), N Cudd, H Keddie. Reps: R Buckley, T Davies, L Fairbrother, C Hill, J Thomas, S Pretorius, G Rhys Jones, T Prydie.

Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)

Irish Independent

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