Saturday 24 August 2019

'Munster are a team that get involved. You see a lot of games where they are involved in that type of fracas' - Leo Cullen

 

Sexton leaves his Munster rival on the ground in last December’s derby clash. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Sexton leaves his Munster rival on the ground in last December’s derby clash. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Leo Cullen says the turmoil at Thomond Park in December played no role in his decision to bench Johnny Sexton for today's Guinness PRO14 semi-final against Munster.

Instead, the head coach says his captain will be used to provide experience off the bench at the RDS after first watching his back-ups at provincial and international level, Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery, do battle to keep the season alive.

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The call came as a shock yesterday as the former second-row made four changes to the team that lost to Saracens in the Champions Cup final a week ago, with Seán O'Brien and Rob Kearney left out altogether and Scott Fardy picked alongside Sexton on the bench.

O'Brien was unavailable for selection after last week's defeat took a heavy toll on his energy levels, while Kearney missed some training early in the week but was available. Sexton, Cullen said, took a full part in training. Byrne, Dave Kearney, Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock come into the team, with Ruddock captaining in Sexton's absence.

Munster, meanwhile, welcome Joey Carbery and Keith Earls back, while Johann van Graan picks CJ Stander at openside flanker to accommodate Arno Botha at No 8.

World Player of the Year Sexton was criticised for a lack of calm during the Christmas derby defeat when James Lowe was red-carded and Tadhg Furlong was sin-binned during a tempestuous affair.

Cullen has warned his players to keep their cool when things spill over the RDS, something he feels happens regularly when Munster are playing.

"Not so much in the selection," he said when asked if it impacted his decisions.

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"There was certain chaos in that game… We just need to make sure we're nice and controlled, disciplined in the game and we're thinking clearly. That was one game. It hasn't been a feature for us.

"Munster are, maybe, a team that get involved. You see a lot of games where they are involved in that type of fracas.

"They are a competitive group. We just need to make sure we understand what that's going to be like. We didn't get a very good handle on it that day."

Cullen is looking for Sexton and Fardy to provide experience off the bench, but the decision to start without the skipper is a big one.

"He did the majority of the week, yes, we tried to manage the group again and he's been good," Cullen said.

"He's leading in a slightly different role this week and he's such an important voice in the group.

"For us to be able to have that balance, obviously Ross has played a huge chunk of the games for us this year, particularly in the PRO14.

"To have that balance and Johnny coming off the bench, Scott as well, and some of the other players in there, the fresh energy I guess they will be able to bring as well, the quality in terms of the number of games these guys have played in this campaign.

"We've used plenty of players and the group is nice and competitive. It's always a tricky selection."

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