Boost for Leinster as injuries clear ahead of Exeter trip

Tue, Jan 15, 2013, 00:00

A dentist’s drill might have been regarded with more affection than the phalanx of tape recorders that enveloped in turn, Leinster forwards’ coach Jono Gibbes, Eoin Reddan and Sean O’Brien when the topic of Jonathan Sexton and a possible transfer to Racing Metro 92 was broached.

All three kicked to touch on the subject, understandably, some imparting a little more spin but the message was unanimous: everyone wants the 27-year-old Leinster and Ireland outhalf to maintain his current employment. There was also unanimity in explaining that the first they’d heard of the matter was yesterday morning.

Gibbes ventured: “My personal preference is of course that we want to keep Johnny (Sexton) at Leinster. He’s grown up in the area, been a big part of what we have achieved. We think that he can contribute massively to anything in the future.”

Reddan offered: “Johnny is a really good fiend of mine and I hope he stays. I can’t stress that enough. I don’t know how big or how serious the stuff is but, to me, I’m hoping the news is he is going to be staying.”

O’Brien was succinct on the matter of Sexton’s billet-doux as the French probably wouldn’t say. “There’s always speculation around contract time and I wouldn’t read too much into it to be honest.”

The focus for Leinster and indeed their outstanding outhalf over the next few days is to prepare for Saturday’s final pool match against the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.

The medical prognosis is good. Brian O’Driscoll tweaked his right ankle – the one he didn’t have surgery on – in the victory over the Scarlets at the RDS but a precautionary scan revealed no serious damage and Gibbes confirmed that he would train today.

Available for selection

Kevin McLaughlin has recovered from a knock to a shoulder that forced him out of last weekend’s match and trained yesterday where he was joined by Richardt Strauss (knee ligaments) and O’Brien; the latter was a late withdrawal from the Leinster team for the Scarlets match because of illness. All four will be available for selection. There was one other brief contractual inquiry involving Leinster’s Springbok loosehead Heinke van der Merwe who has been linked, through the French newspaper Midi Olympique, with a possible move to Stade Francais. Gibbes concentrated on extolling the virtues of the loosehead prop rather than entering into any conjecture.

The challenge that the Exeter Chiefs will pose has been exercising the New Zealander’s thoughts. “Exeter have been broken down for (more than) four points at home once. Wasn’t it those guys in yellow (Clermont Auvergne, 46-12)? Our preparations needs to be realistic about what we are facing and have to be focused on getting a foothold physically in that game first and being really clinical. Exeter at home have got a serious backbone.”

Reddan then took up the subject of the challenge the Irish province will face in Sandy Park. “There’s no such thing as piling on tries against Exeter. They’re an extremely competitive team. They’ll be looking to win this game. Even if we didn’t need a bonus point win and had our destiny in our own hands it would be very, very tough. We need to win the game first.

“They’re a very determined side. You can see the way they play they’re very much together, that comes through every week. It’s probably the characteristic that makes them toughest to play against. They might try a few things but they’ve an excellent coach in Rob Baxter. He’s a man who respects the basics very well.

Very committed

“I think at home it’s a massive game for them. They want to win (this) Heineken Cup match. They beat Llanelli there and did well against Clermont for a long time. They’d love to beat us this weekend, there’s no doubt about that.”

The Leinster squad sat through a video review yesterday morning of the match between the team at the RDS. Reddan explained: “They defended very well. We did create three or four opportunities in the first half when we maybe dropped the ball and threw one or two passes that we could have held onto maybe.

“In general you’d probably want to be making more than three or four opportunities to get a few tries. I think they defended very well. Obviously we’ll try to come up with a few things, we’ll need to carry well coming into contact because in defence they’re very strong and good in the tackle. We’ll definitely have our work cut out for us.”

Dave Kearney and long-term injury victim Mark Flanagan played in Leinster A’s British Irish Cup win at the weekend and will be available when the team play their final pool match away to Leeds on Saturday.

Williams ruled out for eight weeks

Ulster will be without their inspirational and in-form number eight Nick Williams for their final Heineken Cup pool match away to Castres on Saturday.

Williams, who scored his seventh try in 15 games in the win over Glasgow, suffered medial ligament damage to his left knee and is expected to be sidelined for up to eight weeks – it had been feared he might be out for six months. Paddy Jackson’s ankle injury is “responding well to physiotherapy treatment” while Craig Gilroy, who suffered a head injury, is “following the necessary return-to-play protocol”.

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