Fears grow that Johnny Sexton won't play for Leinster again due to groin injury

Johnny Sexton leaves the pitch with an injury during the Six Nations match against England. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Leinster are bracing themselves for the prospect of being without captain Johnny Sexton for at least the next few weeks after the Ireland star was sent to see a specialists to ascertain the extent of the groin injury he suffered against England last Saturday.

The 37-year-old was forced off with nine minutes remaining after trying to prevent Jamie George’s maul try in the Grand Slam win at the Aviva Stadium and is now facing the prospect that he won’t play for the province again.

Sexton said he hopes to be back in a number of weeks but behind the scenes there are fears he could be sidelined for up to three months.

Leinster face the Stormers tonight in the United Rugby Championship (URC), before taking on Ulster in the last 16 of the Champions Cup tomorrow week.

Win that, and they take on the winners of Leicester Tigers v Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium on Good Friday (April 7).

After that, there’s a two-week tour of South Africa before the Champions Cup semi-finals take place on the weekend of April 28, with the URC knockouts beginning the following week and the Dublin Champions Cup final scheduled for May 20.

After winning the Grand Slam in his final Six Nations campaign with Ireland, Sexton was hoping to finish his Leinster career with a fifth Champions Cup and a seventh URC title. Now, he faces an anxious race to be fit enough to play a part.

“I don’t know is the answer,” coach Leo Cullen said when asked about Sexton’s return. “I am not expecting anything. I am hopeful but I am not sure. He is going to see a specialist, we will see how we go.”

Cullen says Leinster’s ambitions will not be affected by Sexton’s absence, with Harry Byrne starting tonight and his brother Ross due back next week.

“There are trophies on the line, players want to be involved in that,” he said. “They’re itching for the opportunity themselves, they want to be the person that’s driving the bus, so to speak.

“They’re ready for it, whatever happens, the work that’s gone in behind the scenes with players and coaches, we’re always getting ready for that eventuality.”

“One person goes down, someone else is ready to step in. We don’t get bogged down by what we don’t have, we just worry about what we do have and we have a great group there.”

Tonight, a Leinster team minus their Grand Slam winners get a chance to test themselves against a Stormers side packed with Springboks.

“We’re delighted to see the Stormers sending all of their Springbok guys up here, they’re getting ready for a Champions Cup weekend next week as well,” he said.

“It’s an amazing test for us, we’ve sat in these press conferences over the last few years, talking about the quality of the competition and now you’re like, ‘woosh’, you see a team of Springboks arriving to the RDS for a round 16 game of the URC, it’s an amazing test for our players and us, as a coaching team, we’re excited to see how our guys go as a team.

“They won’t make it easy, I heard John Dobson’s stuff this week. They’re coming with a mentality where they want to finish as high a seeding as possible.

“They’re sniffing an opportunity and the challenge for our guys is how they deal with the challenge across lots of different facets: set-piece, breakdown, kicking game, aggressive line-speed. The speed they have, etc. It’s a great test.”