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Monday 5 December 2016

Sexton's head is in the game

Cullen talks down 'hysteria' in relation to Johnny injury

Jonny Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonny Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

It would appear the Six Nations demise of Jonathan Sexton has been greatly exaggerated.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, according to Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

The Ireland fly-half passed his Head Injury Assessment (HIA) on Saturday, despite reports to the contrary.

Cullen cleared up any misunderstanding yesterday at the weekly media briefing out in headquarters.

"Johnny, (there's been) a lot of talk about that since the weekend," he started out.

"He got a bang in the head when he clashed heads with Brendan Macken.

"He went off. He did his HIA, passed his questionnaire."

Sexton was closely supervised and monitored by Leinster doctor Jim McShane and physiotherapist Garreth Farrell.

Happy

"Basically, the medics weren't fully happy. That's why he didn't return to the field."

It had been reported on radio and in press outlets that Sexton had failed his HIA and had immediately been cast as a doubt for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Wales on Sunday week.

This is a very sensitive issue at the best of times.

But, the multiple concussions suffered by Sexton in the last two seasons and the 12-week enforced absence last winter on the medical advice of a noted neurosurgeon in Paris heightens the need for awareness around Ireland's most important player.

The duty to player welfare has to override all other interests.

"We've lost a player this year to retirement, Kevin McLaughlin, so we're ultra-cautious," reacted Cullen, about his close friend.

Of course, flanker Seán O'Brien is just back from a concussion related vestibular impairment issue.

"It's important that everyone is really aware of the fact that player welfare it's really important to us, if there's any little bit of doubt.

"Johnny could have gone back on because he passed his questionnaire. He went through that fine."

The prudent decision was that Sexton had taken a heavy belt and that there are more important 'fish to be hauled-in' over the next two months in the Six Nations than overcoming Wasps in what amounted to a dead rubber.

"He's in camp with the Irish management this week and their medical team will get him back involved with training in the appropriate manner.

"I know there was a bit of hysteria around this but, he's being managed as best as possible."

Less then three hours after Cullen had his say, the Irish Rugby Football Union released what could generously be described as a short statement confirming how Sexton has passed HIA 1 and HIA 2 and was on course to complete HIA3 sometime today.

It wasn't treated with hysteria as much as glee at Wales' prospect of taking on Ireland without their main playmaker.

"Johnny's a world-class player with his all-round ability and his all-round game," said their respected assistant Neil Jenkins.

"He's very good defensively and troubles you no end with his kicking game, whether he goes to the corners, goes aerially or attack kicks.

"He puts you under pressure with ball in hand and his kicking game - and when he plays he's a threat to any side."

Wales will not be too concerned with Ireland's problems - or lack of them - as they have concerns of their own in need of attention.

Their captain Sam Warburton made his reappearance from an ankle injury for his club Cardiff in The Challenge Cup last Friday.

Utility back Liam Williams has been sidelined since suffering a recurrence of a foot injury during the World Cup clash with Australia in October.

"Gats (Wales coach Warren Gatland) will have a discussion with the players and their regions but Liam needs game-time and Sam has stated he needs game-time," Jenkins said. "I would have thought Liam plays this week for the Scarlets at Connacht.

"But, the final decision will be down to the boss 'Gats'."

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