Leinster blow as Johnny Sexton ruled out of Montpellier game
Ross Byrne to start at outhalf; Isa Nacewa returns to captain side at RDS
Isa Nacewa returns to the Leinster side for the Champions Cup opener against Montpellier at the RDS on Saturday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Leo Cullen has said that Johnny Sexton and Rory O’Loughlin had been ruled out of tomorrow’s European Champions Cup opener against Montpellier at the RDS from early in the week after sustaining dead legs in Leinster’s win over Munster, thus forcing them to join the still absent Seán O’Brien (calf injury).
“Johnny and Rory came through the game okay but just flagged in with some stiffness and dead legs, and couldn’t train properly this week. So we made a call reasonably early,” said Cullen.
Sexton has been replaced by Ross Byrne, with Isa Nacewa returning from injury to captain the side at inside centre as Robbie Henshaw shifts to outside centre in the only changes from the starting XV which kicked off that 23-17 win over Munster.
O’Brien’s absence was less surprising, although Cullen said: “Seanie was a little bit slower than we probably would have thought with his calf. Isa on the other hand made it through. So we have a few injuries but you can see across the board there are a lot of teams with injuries at the moment and over the course of a long season you’re just trying to do what’s best on any given week and making sure that we prepare the team as best as possible.
“We made some calls pretty early this week and lads have trained well this week off the back of a pretty physical game against Munster but I think it prepares the group well. When you go into those games there’s always a risk of guys picking up bangs. It’s just like any other week.”
On his second European start, the 22-year-old Byrne will be opposed by a 19-year-old debutant in this competition, Thomas Darmon, as All Blacks outhalf Aaron Cruden has again been ruled out with a rib injury. However, this is offset by the return of Louis Picamoles to captain the side, as well as flanker Yacouba Camara and the Wallabies backs, Joe Tomane and Jesse Mogg.
“We know it’s a huge challenge against Montpellier,” said Cullen. “You look across their team and the amount of threats they have. They’re missing a couple of players as well but a lot of teams are in similar situations. So we’re doing what’s best for us on any given week. We want to make sure the group prepares and trains well. Guys have worked hard this week and hopefully we can have a big performance now.”
“It’s another big step for Ross but he’s very ambitious himself and he wants to push on and get better, and you’re seeing that gradual improvement all the time with him.”
Still and all, Sexton is such a vital cog in the Leinster machine that even he hadn’t trained all week, were he passed fit he’d assuredly have played. Asked if he could have taken a chance on Sexton, Cullen said: “You can always push things along, but we’re doing what’s best for the team and we think this is the best course of action.”
Asked if it was just a dead leg, or if he could be more specific, Cullen said: “Yea, him and Rory. It [Leinster-Munster] was a good physical game. We’ll get those guys checked again and see hopefully they’ll be okay and come back in next week,” said Cullen in reference to Leinster’s trek to Glasgow.
“It’s important when you play in these big, high intensity games that we’re able to prepare as well as possible, and if guys aren’t able to train at the start of the week it becomes quite difficult. We’ve prepared well this week and hopefully those guys will be able to drop back in at the start of next week and put themselves back in the frame again.”
The pressure is on Leinster to win this opening match in a brutally tough pool, and the returning Nacewa said: “Being at the RDS, there is only one goal in our mind; to win.”
With 15,000 tickets sold there is still availability for the game with tickets on sale at leinsterrugby.ie or on match day from the Ticketmaster office inside the Anglesea Road gate from 11.30am.
LEINSTER (v Montpellier, Saturday, RDS, 1pm): Joey Carbery; Adam Byrne, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (capt), Barry Daly; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, Scott Fardy; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Cian Healy, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Jordi Murphy, Jamison Gibson-Park, Noel Reid, Fergus McFadden.
MONTPELLIER: Jesse Mogg; Benjamin Fall, Joseph Tomane, Frans Steyn, Nemani Nadolo; Thomas Darmon, Ruan Pienaar; Mikheil Nariashvili, Bismarck Du Plessis, Antoine Guillamon; Jacques Du Plessis, Nicholaas Van Rensburg; Kelian Galletier, Yacouba Camara, Louis Picamoles (capt).
Replacements: Romain Ruffenach, Yvan Watremez, Davit Kubriashvili, Julien Delannoy, Wiaan Liebenberg, Benoit Paillaugue, Timoci Nagusa, Joffrey Michel.