Leinster outhalf and captain Johnny Sexton has been ruled out of the province's Heineken Champions Cup semi-final away to La Rochelle next Sunday (kick-off 3pm Irish time).
Leo Cullen's weekly injury bulletin confirmed that James Ryan, Garry Ringrose, Scott Penny, Tommy O'Brien and Ciarán Frawley, whose minor hamstring injury ruled him out of last Saturday's Rainbow Cup defeat by Munster, were all expected to train fully this week.
However, Sexton was listed under those players deemed “Unavailable for Selection”, adding that “he will continue to train and be assessed as part of the Graduated Return to Play process.”
Sexton has sustained two head knocks, and failed HIAs, in Ireland’s opening Six Nations game against Wales and Leinster’s quarter-final win away to Exeter just over two weeks ago, and has apparently passed all his return to play protocols.
But as with the recent cases of Caelan Doris and Ryan, Leinster clearly don’t want to run the risk of their captain suffering a third concussive episode this season and a second in quick succession, which would automatically lead to a lengthier absence.
This decision will make it much likelier that Sexton will be fit for the Champions Cup final, should Leinster reach the decider on May 22nd, and for the proposed British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
Nonetheless, given the La Rochelle semi-final is Leinster’s biggest game of the season so far, and coming the week before Warren Gatland and his assistants sit down to finalise their Lions squad, it will be an acutely frustrating and ill-timed setback for Sexton, even though he had just completed three consecutive 80 minute performances in Ireland’s Six Nations wins over Italy, Scotland and England.
Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring), Doris (calf), Harry Byrne (hamstring) , Jimmy O'Brien (hamstring) and the Munster-bound Rowan Osborne (hand) are all looking to increase their training loads this week before their selection hopes are assessed, but all must now be considered doubtful.