Johnny Sexton a doubt for Leinster's crunch matches
Munster also face injury worries after Earls, Kleyn and O’Mahony taken off in Cardiff win
Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne in training last month. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Johnny Sexton remains an uncertainty as Leinster face into their Pro14 league match against Glasgow this week before taking on Toulouse in their European Champions Cup semi-final. As Leinster coach Leo Cullen and his counterpart in Munster, Johann van Graan, continue to face into a season-narrowing series of knockout duels in league and cup competitions, both are walking the fine line between presenting their best players for game time and injury.
“Hopefully they will both train next week and we will be able to make some informed decisions based off that. But they are both in good form,” said Cullen of his outhalf choices Sexton and Ross Byrne.
Leinster are counting the cost of a physical game against Benetton in the RDS where lock Mick Kearney and Noel Reid both departed with injuries, Kearney with a suspected dislocated shoulder and Reid for an HIA. Reid, who started at outhalf, will now follow return-to-play protocols.
“It’s a fine balance,” added Cullen, who is also on a wait and see with Devin Toner and Robbie Henshaw. “You want to get ready for big games, make sure you are in the best possible shape. You want to be finishing the season strong, not stumbling your way, so certain weeks we can give guys some time so they can conserve and store up energy for the next big day. Our backroom team are unbelievably good at doing that.”
Leinster have the comfort of having already qualified for a home semi-final in the Pro14 with Munster (68 points) trailing Glasgow (71 points) with two Conference A rounds remaining. Van Graan played many of his front-line players from the beginning against Cardiff and brought on more from the bench with Treviso up on Friday and Connacht at home on April 27th, either side of a Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens in Coventry on April 20th.
The South African coach is also trying to carefully balance his players’ game time and also has injury issues to address. In-form Irish winger Keith Earls suffered tight muscles and was a late withdrawal before Cardiff, while lock Jean Kleyn limped off in the second half. Munster captain Peter O’Mahony was also taken from the field on 77 minutes having earlier received treatment on the pitch as Munster played out the final stages on the artificial surface with 14 men.
Both coaches are juggling with Cullen allowing himself to view their meeting with Glasgow later this week as an opportunity to both rest and test players.
“Our guys are in really good shape now,” said the Leinster coach. “This time of year when we know the big games are coming up. The focus is quite narrow for us. Big game against Glasgow. It’s going to be important to reintegrate a number of players back in. Next week some guys will feature depending on position and what guys have done over the course of the season. They still need some game time and that match sharpens them. I think Glasgow will give us that for sure.
“It is a big week for Dev [Toner],” added Cullen of his lock who is recovering from an ankle injury. “He got through all last week. The physios and rehab guys have been working really hard with him, so when he does come back, he’s in the best possible shape.
“Dev is such a consistent performer. For Leinster, a lot of the attacks that get launched from a lineout or even from a restart, from work he does. He is a smart player, been around the block, a tonne of experience.”
Connacht consolidated third place in Conference A on Saturday when they toughed out a narrow 6-5 win over Zebre in Parma. Jack Carty’s two first-half penalties were just enough to beat the bottom-placed Italians and establish a four-point lead over Cardiff Blues in fourth place. The Welsh side visit the Sportsground on Saturday.
Four tries from Glasgow in their bonus-point win over Ulster makes the Irish side’s game against Edinburgh crucial for playoff aspirations. Ulster remain second in Conference B and on course to host a knockout game at Kingspan Stadium. But they will be looking for results elsewhere to go their way after the 30-7 defeat in Scotstoun.