Tuesday 23 July 2019

Returning Johnny Sexton can keep Leinster calm in the eye of the storm

Lions star’s return is a significant boost as Leo Cullen’s men bid to make a huge statement in Scotland

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton during squad training at Thornfields in UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton during squad training at Thornfields in UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

IN this tightest of pools, Leinster can make a definitive statement about their qualification hopes and, at a stroke, virtually condemn one of their rivals to imminent exclusion.

With a hazardous estimation that there might be a 4-1 match points split in Montpellier tomorrow in the home side’s favour, victory in Glasgow for Leo Cullen’s men would be the perfect platform to approach December’s double-header against Exeter Chiefs, the first of those a daunting trip to formidable Sandy Park.

Defeat for Glasgow would surely be fatal for them.

Last week, Leinster set out to play and win; this week winning is all that matters.

The restoration of Jonathan Sexton will significantly boost their chances, off-setting the seasonal return of fellow Lion, Glasgow’s imperious attacking full-back Stuart Hogg.

“It’s great to have Jonny back,” enthused Cullen before boarding the flight to Glasgow yesterday afternoon.

“The experience he has is fantastic. He already has had a couple of games for us (this season) where he has been key, against Edinburgh and Munster. And this is another important game for us.”

The selections of Sean Cronin and Cian Healy suggest a focus on direct ball-carrying on the synthetic Scotstoun surface; Cullen will have noticed Glasgow’s difficulty in coping with Exeter’s confrontational approach to over-turning a 10-0 deficit last weekend.

“We’re blessed to have those players with that level of experience,” added Cullen.

“It is a very competitive group, those two guys have been pushing hard and they have eight or nine years’ experience behind them.

“And we have impact on the bench. It’s about managing that front-row, and they will all contribute.”

Scott Fardy returns to replace James Ryan but behind the scrum, Isa Nacewa will be gone for more than a month after undergoing a syndesmosis procedure on an ankle injury sustained last weekend; Noel Reid deputises.

Dan Leavy supplants Jordi Murphy on the bench; Dave Kearney is there too as Adam Byrne, defensively suspect despite his thrilling attacking game, loses out altogether, with Fergus McFadden’s experience chosen as a starting option.

Sean O’Brien will travel but only as a supporting act; he may return to action next weekend.

“He is getting close,” confirmed Cullen.

Aside from Hogg, Glasgow coach Dave Rennie welcomes back hooker George Turner, centre Sam Johnson and wing Leonardo Sarto.

Turner is the only change in the pack, coming in for Fraser Brown, who was injured in the game against Exeter and faces two months out.

Nick Grigg and Lee Jones drop to the bench after starting last Saturday, to accommodate Johnson and Sarto. All eyes will be on Hogg.

“Stuart is a dangerman,” agrees Cullen. “He’s a dangerous runner but when guys come back in for the first game of the season you never know how they will respond.

“Some respond seamlessly, some will struggle but the evidence is he is not afraid to back himself. With Ruaridh Jackson out, it is one quality player replacing another.”

Rennie added: “Stuart has really impressed during his time out injured. The energy he brings is infectious, his contribution on and off the field is influential.

“He’s got himself in great shape and is desperate to get back out there.”

Glasgow have lost their last five in Europe against Leinster.

However, Cullen’s side haven’t won here since 2012 and, despite being unbeaten in their last two away games in Europe, they have won just two of their last ten road trips.

“They are dangerous at home, with a huge physical edge and our guys need to be ready,” warned Cullen. “They are very aggressive at the breakdown and we have analysed the ruck area closely.”

Rennie knows this is a must-win.

“This game was always a must win, regardless of the Exeter result,” he said. “In this competition you need to win your home games and we’ve prepared well and are raring to go.

“Leinster were impressive last week. We are expecting another arm wrestle. It’ll be a brutal encounter.”

Cullen added: “They’ve said this is a must-win, you look across the pools and all the points matter.

“They’re tighter than they’ve ever been, we just need to worry about ourselves.

“We are going there to win. The forecast is dififcult and we need to brace ourselves for that.”

Having Sexton at the eye of the predicted storm gives them a keener edge.

Verdict: Leinster

Glasgow Warriors – S Hogg; T Seymour, S Johnson, P Horne, L Sarto; F Russell, A Price; J Bhatti, G Turner, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, J Gray, R Wilson, C Gibbins, A Ashe. Reps: P MacArthur, A Allan, D Rae, S Cummings, R Harley, H Pyrgos, N Grigg, L Jones.

Leinster – J Carbery, F McFadden, R Henshaw, N Reid, B Daly, J Sexton, L McGrath, C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, S Fardy, R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: J Tracy, J McGrath, M Bent, J Ryan, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, D Kearney.

Ref – J Garces (Fra)

Glasgow Warriors v Leinster,

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