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Sunday 19 May 2019

Stuart backs Sexton

Flanker O'Brien also set to start against Toulouse

WARY: Senior coach Stuart Lancaster during Leinster squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook. Photo: SPORTSFILE
WARY: Senior coach Stuart Lancaster during Leinster squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Who leads the French Top-17 League? Toulouse. Who has won the most games (17) in 22 rounds? That's right, Toulouse.

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster takes up the statistical baton and runs with it.

"If you look at the rankings, who has made the most line-breaks in the Top-14? It's Toulouse.

"Who's made the most metres? It's Toulouse. Who has the most defenders beaten? It's Toulouse.

"They just have an unbelievable chemistry through the team in how they create momentum in attack."

The all-dancing, all-entertaining 'joie de vivre' of Toulouse has been augmented, even complemented, by a devotion to defence.

"You only have to look at their track record of results since we played them in the RDS," noted Lancaster.

"They've won consistently since then, other than the Toulon game, which they sent pretty much their second-string out for t hat."

The most recent evidence highlighted their weapons on attack, if not quite their discipline in defence.

"Even the weekend game against Clermont, to come back from 44-40 down with ten to go and won it 47-44.

"The quarter-final against Racing, down to 14 men with 60 to go and won away from home. It is a proper challenge."

The sight of Tadhg Furlong lying flat on his back, wincing in pain, as his left knee was flexed could have been almost as painful to Lancaster as it was for his tight-head prop.

"I was thinking, 'I hope he's ok' because he's such a big player for us," he shared.

"It was a very nervous moment. It's a risk isn't it? When you put players in the week before such a big game. It's a balance because players have to be contact ready and battled-hardened to play as well."

Leinster simply could not get away with throwing Devin Toner and centre Henshaw in at the deep end.

The presumption is that all three senior internationals will be trusted with the game plan against Toulouse

The same goes for Sean O'Brien, Lancaster all but admitting the flanker will start against the French club at the Aviva on Sunday (KO 3.15, Virgin Media, CH4 and BT Sport 2).

The gamble on giving Jonathan Sexton much needed minutes was not taken when weighed against the possibility of losing the out-half to even a minor injury.

The coaches have decided to drop their talisman in cold rather than have him match-hardened.

There is still that nagging suspicion about where Sexton is in body and mind.

"We had a good talk about the Six Nations with all the Ireland players when they came back into camp.

"It is important to take the learnings from them and upskill them, update them on what we're doing at Leinster.

"He (Johnny) has had his chance to get ahead in his preparation for Toulouse, alongside Garry (Ringrose), James Ryan, Jack Conan, the lads that didn't play at the weekend."

It will be a test of Lancaster's as a psychologist as much as a coach to restore the confidence of his Ireland internationals.

"You're going into the quarter-final against Saracens last year and boys have come off five games unbeaten with Ireland, they've won a Grand Slam.

"This time, on the back of the Wales game, it was different no doubt.

"There's more than enough belief in the players and the coaching group that we can deliver the performance.

"But we're by no means complacent."

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