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Wednesday 26 April 2017

Cullen: Sexton ready to return

Ireland's frontline internationals expected to be available for Ulster

Jonathan Sexton of Leinster during squad training. Pic: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton of Leinster during squad training. Pic: Sportsfile

Jonathan Sexton has been given the green light to be back in blue.

The Ireland out-half has completed his five-week strength and conditioning course to make his hamstrings more robust for the second-half of the season, beginning at home to Ulster in the Guinness PRO12 League on Saturday.

Sexton still has to alternate between Leinster training and the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry to monitor any unexpected late problems.

"He trained fully, Johnny. He looked pretty good out there," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

"We're pretty hopeful he'll come through the week. He looked sharp out there.

"He's dying to get back involved now at this stage because it has been a frustrating period for him being on the sideline watching his team-mates playing in Europe and on the weekend as well.

"What appears to be the 'play-one, miss-one' Christmas rule for Ireland's front- line national players means the likes of Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner, Sean O'Brien, Josh van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip, Sexton and Garry Ringrose should all come into contention on New Year's Eve.

"You get a list saying X amount of minutes and games that certain players can play," explained Cullen, about the Player Welfare Programme.

"With the blocks, you have to be able to manage the players within those guidelines."

Claims

This seems to be whittled down into playing one of the two Inter-provincials that bookend this week.

Scrum-half Luke McGrath and breakout wing Adam Byrne should also have strong claims for inclusion.

However, Rob Kearney's ankle is still a source of concern in terms of being reviewed later this week.

"Most of them are back," added Cullen.

"You're trying to manage guys, some guys that would have played during the November series and that played at the weekend will become unavailable.

"I'm sure it is the same for other provincial teams."

Leinster's game management in Munster was not up to scratch, especially for the second-half.

The spotlight for this does not fall on out-half Ross Byrne, who looked assured in much of what he did.

It comes down to indiscipline and to errors forced mostly from the pressure caused by Jacques Nienaber's defence.

"We looked at it in detail and did a review with the players," said the coach.

"I thought the effort was really good. We made something like 240 tackles during the game.

"It tells the story really because we probably just absorbed way too much pressure.

"You couldn't fault the defensive effort. But, Munster just ground is down."

It is a difficult balancing act, knowing when to play into Munster's red wall and when to kick the ball away.

They will probably revert to a more positive style of rugby at home in The RDS.

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