Thursday 20 June 2019

Leinster won't risk Sexton as Henshaw stays in mix

Robbie Henshaw. Pic: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw. Pic: Sportsfile

Leinster will need their best performance of the season to put Toulouse to the sword in the Champions Cup on Saturday (KO1.0, BT Sport 2).

And they will have to produce it without the services of Jonathan Sexton.

The minor calf problem caused to the World Player of the Year is just too vulnerable to more serious trouble should the out-half receive a further damage to it.

For instance, a Grade-1 calf strain takes 7-10 days to heal, whereas a Grade-2 strain expands the rehabilitation process to 4-6 weeks.

Any exacerbation of the issue could place the Six Nations in jeopardy.

The close proximity of the championship may, or may not, have been a consideration in Leo Cullen's decision to turn to Ross Byrne.

No doubt, it will come as a shot in the arm to the French league leaders as they look to truly announce their intentions to succeed Leinster as European champions.

The race for that fifth star is on and Toulouse are a lot closer to revisiting former glories. than they looked last season.

Sexton has been a scourge to the French in recent years, most recently orchestrating and finishing off that 45-metre drop goal at Stade de France last February.

The removal of the centrepiece to Leinster's game plan is a big blow.

Of course, Byrne won't see it that way.

The 23-year-old has never been short of confidence - and for good reason.

A cool, calm character, Byrne will relish the chance to show what he can do.

The speculation around Robbie Henshaw is not quite as clear cut.

The centre has not played since pulling up with a hamstring strain in the warm-up to Ireland's international against Argentina on November 10.

On Monday, there was an upbeat report on Henshaw's recent progress, going into his ninth week without a game.

"There's a protocol you have to follow, markers you have to hit, strength, power etc," said senior coach Stuart Lancaster.

"At the moment, Robbie is ticking all those boxes. He has made great progress recently.

"Hopefully, he will be back in the equation for the match day 23."

In that regard, Lancaster may just have given away Leinster's position in that there could be an opening on the bench.

Now, the Athlone man is no stranger to jumping straight back in and would provide big game experience beside Byrne. Rory O'Loughlin has risen to the challenge of filling the twelve shirt for Leinster this season.

Then again, Cullen and Lancaster may not be convinced Henshaw can be risked when Wasps are last on the agenda.

Win or lose at the RDS Arena, Leinster will need Sexton and Henshaw to seal the Pool or mount a bid to qualify as a best runners-up.

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