Sexton fit to return as Leinster home in on semi-final
O’Driscoll also in line to face Munster at Thomond Park
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Jonny Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll are set to return for Leinster against Munster at Thomond Park next Saturday in the Rabo Direct Pro12.
O’Driscoll returns from suspension and Sexton had nearly recovered in time for last Friday’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final win away to Wasps, but it is a measure of the increasing faith and long-term belief in Ian Madigan that Joe Schmidt did not especially feel under pressure to re-instate his first-choice Racing-bound outhalf, as well as being fair to him.
“In the end, we made the decision on Wednesday because we don’t want to take any risks with Jonny. You’ve got to show confidence in players who are doing well, you’ve got to show confidence in players who are going to be in situ next season as well.
“So I think it was really important for Ian to get away in a big game and put his hand up. And I don’t think too many would argue he didn’t do that.”
Certainly not. Madigan not only scored 28 points, but was at the hub of Leinster’s most potent and free-flowing performance in some time. Sexton will soon be departing, unfortunately, but Madigan is the future.
“Ian did really well,” enthused Schmidt before analysing Madigan’s performance with a typically perfectionist eye. “His goal-kicking was excellent again and he put in some really good line kicks. There was a great high ball before half-time he put up for Rob Kearney to contest really well. He got penalised for not rolling away in the tackle, so he’s got to sharpen up there.
“He took his try really well on his show and go. So he was a really good package.
“Darce was really smart in defence, pushed up and forced them deep and then pushed off. He controlled it for us because he’s an experienced, smart player. He took his try, a late square-up angle, really well. It will keep pressure on the other guys.”
Overall, Schmidt’s contentment was manifest. “There was a just a lot more urgency than last week. The team were a bit flat last week. We never start seasons well, we’re always vulnerable after November and Six Nations. There’s always a bit of disconnect there.
“You can look at the tries we conceded on Friday. All credit to Christian Wade and Tom Varndell. But we did a fair bit of work on them. We knew what was coming. But what was coming went past us. That was frustrating. There’s still work to do, definitely. I thought we carried with some intent and that allowed us to keep them under pressure. It kept them soaking territory each time a little and that allowed us momentum to get over the line.”
Leinster have secured a Challenge Cup semi-final at home to Biarritz on Saturday April 27th at 2.30 in the RDS and remain in the running to do likewise in the Pro 12.
“We’ve got one home game but I wouldn’t get too far past Biarritz. They’re the Amlin Challenge Cup winners from last season.
“It’s set up really well for the ERC, they’ve had some great advertisements in this competition this weekend with plenty of entertainment and high-scoring games. And it as great to see the weekend continuing like that on Saturday. The best part of weekends like this when you play on Friday is watching the other teams slug it out and suffer a little bit.”
Biarritz are the holders and the last team to beat Clermont on their own Stade Marcel Michelin patch, 59 games ago, in Schmidt’s time as assistant to Vern Cotter.
“ Très dur . We’ve a lot of respect for Biarritz. I know the team reasonably well and I know a lot of their players really well also.
“Benoit Baby spent a fair bit of time in Clermont, (Imanol) Harinordoquy and (Dimitri) Yachvilli, if they have those two controlling the play, without wanting to set us up with (Teku) Ngwenya flying, if you watch the Varndell and Wade show against us, I’m sure he’ll be getting pretty excited.”