Johnny Sexton and Leinster prepare hot welcome for Dragons

New captain in line for first start of season as Cullen welcomes back internationals

Head coach Leo Cullen and Leinster captain Jonathan Sexton. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Head coach Leo Cullen and Leinster captain Jonathan Sexton. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Leinster v Dragons, RDS (Saturday, 5.15pm, live on TG4, EirSport, Premier Sport)

Success is a pursuit demanding relentless incremental improvement. To stand still is to risk being overtaken.

Leinster, double champions last season, in the Champions Cup and Guinness Pro14, understand this concept as a group, but therein also lies an individual responsibility.

Jonathan Sexton succeeds Isa Nacewa as Leinster captain and, despite all he has accomplished within the sport, retains that singular focus to improve. The 33-year-old Leinster, Ireland and Lions outhalf spent the latter part of the summer working on his physical conditioning.

He explained: “I find when I’m not carrying niggles, not that the rest looks after itself, but I can have a clear week in training, I can have a professional build up and do all the training I want. Then the performance will hopefully look after itself, but when I’m struggling with niggles, picking up strains and knocks, that’s where I find my performance level dips.

“So for me, pre-season was about my body – I worked pretty hard with a couple of different people and hopefully we will see the benefits of it. You always learn a lot in the low points, and a couple of years ago I just couldn’t perform as well as I wanted to, and it really frustrated me.

“I’m sure it frustrated these lads as well,” he continued nodding towards Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. “I found solutions to it, found people who could help me, and I learned a lot, so now I’m a better professional, got a better routine; that’s what I took out of that situation.”

Sexton will play his first match of the season against the Dragons and is a part of a cohort of returning internationals including Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Josh van der Flier, the latter happily recovered from an injury sustained in last season’s Six Nations, in what is a very strong Leinster team.

Cullen has shuffled his resources through the first three weeks of the season, trying to balance doling out match minutes to an extended posse of players. Sexton has captained Leinster in the past on a once-off basis but now finds himself with the role on a permanent footing. He didn’t need that status to drive the team in the past.

Important position

He offers a lighter view on how his style of captaincy.

“I’d be quite calm, collected (laughter) except for training yesterday. I think it is important that I try and be myself. I don’t want to change too much. I got here quite late so there was obviously something wrong with my leadership before now,” he smiled.

“It’s still a work in progress. It’s important that I be myself and try and adapt to things along the way. It’s an important position and one that I am not taking lightly.”

Dragons coach Bernard Jackman makes three changes to the team that beat the South Kings last week but he, more than most, fully appreciates the size of the task facing his team. They’ll be physical, competitive at the breakdown, and look to hang onto possession because the alternative, particularly kicking injudiciously, would be to invite a heap of misery to descend on the visitors.

They may find the RDS an inhospitable place for 80 minutes as Leinster enjoy the comforts of home for the first time this season; one of those should be a victory.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson Park; E Byrne, S Cronin, A Porter; S Fardy, J Ryan; M Deegan, J van der Flier, J Conan.

Replacements:  B Byrne, P Dooley, T Furlong, R Molony, C Doris, H O’Sullivan, N Reid, J Tomane.

DRAGONS: J Williams; D Howells, A Warren, J Dixon, H Amos; J Lewis, R Williams; B Harris, E Dee, L Fairbrother; M Screech, Cory Hill (capt); A Wainwright, N Cudd, R Moriarty.

Replacements: R Hibbard, R Bevington, L Brown, B Nansen, O Griffiths, T Knoyle, A Robson, J Sage.

Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU) 

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