Johnny Sexton could be fit for Leinster’s date with La Rochelle

James Ryan and Caelan Doris moving closer to a return after suffering head injuries

James Ryan is moving closer to a return to action after being out with a head injury. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

James Ryan is moving closer to a return to action after being out with a head injury. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was cautiously optimistic that Johnny Sexton, who will miss Saturday’s opening Rainbow Cup match against Munster at the RDS (7.35pm), could be available for the province’s Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle on Sunday week.

Sexton requires “further assessment” having embraced the return to play protocols in sustaining a head injury that forced him off in the first half of the province’s European victory against the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.

Cullen explained: “We’ve had some experience with guys in and around concussion things and Johnny is very much the same. (We will) just do what’s best by him really is most important, getting him seen by the best people out there and (making) the appropriate decisions out the back of that.

“But yeah he’s come through reasonably well. We didn’t train last week so he’s back out there running around today (Monday), which is good.”

Leinster and the player are being sensible in appraising the situation. Sexton suffered a head injury in the opening Six Nations match against Wales and didn’t play the following weekend against France.

There was better news in relation to concussion issues with James Ryan and Caelan Doris both stepping up training levels this week, having completed the return to play protocols. A decision on whether they will play against Munster will be taken later in the week.

Ryan picked up a head injury against Wales, missed the French game, suffered another knock to the head against Scotland and hasn’t played since. Doris has been absent since January after sustaining symptoms associated with concussion while training with Ireland.

Cullen said: “Caelan’s back, he’s been training for a number of weeks. So it was always about putting a plan together. We’re still seeking out all the different advice around trying to put the best plan together for Johnny so it’s similar to Caelan (and) James Ryan as well. Those guys are getting close to being back playing as well, which is good.”

Garry Ringrose (ankle), Will Connors (knee) and Jamison Gibson Park (hamstring) have all increased training loads and participation in the weekend’s game will be determined by how they fare in training. Scott Penny (hand) and Tommy O’Brien (ankle) are available for selection.

The Leinster coach also spoke briefly on what new signing Michael Alaalatoa will bring to the squad and provided a slightly cryptic response to whether the Samoan international’s arrival will mean a switch to loosehead for Andrew Porter.

“There will be a development with a senior tighthead prop that has been in the group for a long time, so that will all play out in due course,” Cullen ventured before going on to point out that Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter hadn’t been available for a large chunk of the season for different reasons.

Alaalatoa will have a pastoral role in the development of young tightheads Vakh Abdaladze and Tom Clarkson. “Mike understands the role he will play with the wider group and it’s something he’s used to with the Crusaders’ environment. I think (he) will be a positive addition to the group and someone who will add greatly to what we’re doing.”

Cullen also explained that the issue of hotel quarantine post their European game in La Rochelle still hadn’t been clarified. “That’s still to be confirmed what (it’s) going to look like; there’s regular communication between the union and the relevant authorities.”

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