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Thursday 25 May 2017

Sexton is ready so Leinster hope for green light

Kearney still uncertain to be back from ankle injury

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton

The conundrum that existed last week for the IRFU is still in place.

The question remains: is it in the best interests of Jonathan Sexton, not Leinster, to release him to return to the game against Zebre in the PRO12 League on Friday night?

The Ireland out-half is fully fit, has been since last Monday week, to train with his club.

The Ireland mini-camp that took place yesterday removed all of Leinster's frontline Ireland internationals, including their main headline act.

Leinster will have to take what they're given when the bodies return for work today.

In reality, it would not make much sense to put in place a limit on the provinces, allowing them to use their Ireland men for one of two festive Interpros, only to release them 'en bloc' for Zebre.

Afterall, the Italians are stuck in the rut that is last place, with one win from ten in the league.

Unless, of course, it concerns those who are making their way back from injury.

Ergo, Sexton.

"He's good, he trained with us last week, he got through work. He is in a really good place," said backs coach Girvan Dempsey.

"I think it was important to get to the crux of it, to resolve the issue. That's probably why it took so long.

"It would have been easy to get him to a stage, get him fit and roll him out, but who'd know when he'd break down again.

"Everyone feels we've got him to that stage now.

Available

"He's back now and in contention, hopefully available for selection this week."

Ergo, Rob Kearney.

"He's good, just that ankle is causing him a lot of issues," he said.

"Nothing major or untoward, just trying to get back fit from that.

"He made good progress last week. We're hopeful he'll be in contention this week."

Loose-head Andrew Porter has entered into his return to play protocols from a Head Injury Assessment.

He was clearly stunned from a front-on tackle on Ulster's Kieran Treadwell.

Ian Nagle has completed his protocols from a head injury suffered against Munster.

The second row has been cleared to play against Zebre this week.

Turning into the New Year, Leinster are certainly in a better place than this time last season. Back then, their Champions Cup campaign was lying in tatters after the back-to-back defeats to Toulon.

Now, there is the considerable achievement of having their European destiny, even a home quarter-final, in their own hands.

Leinster are also well-placed to reach the top two that would guarantee a home semi-final in the PRO12.

"Yeah. It's palpable. It's evident around the place. You can feel the energy around the place," said Dempsey.

"It was obviously challenging this time last year in terms of results and success of where we were at.

"But I think there's been a huge amount of work gone in and to be in the position we are on both fronts is very encouraging."

It is difficult to know what will define success this season.

Following on from last term, the capture of the PRO12 title and a European Cup quarter-final would be significant progress.

There are leaders that would scoff at the mere mention of progress.

The winning culture built on the backs of men now retired means both trophies are on this season's bucket list.

Massive

"There are some massive games in the Pro12 to make sure that we keep in touch and get into that top two," continued the former Ireland full-back.

"Obviously, two big games in Europe that will define the rest of the season for us."

After Zebre, Leinster will have to stand up to the raw power of multi-national Montpellier at home in the RDS and overcome the obtuse nature of Castres in France.

By then, the need for Sexton and Kearney will be paramount for the province.

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