Johnny Sexton in race against time to be fit for Munster showdown

Outhalf’s series of head injuries once again a topic of conversation in the sport

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton leaves the field for a head injury assessment after suffering a knock against Exeter. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Leinster’s Johnny Sexton leaves the field for a head injury assessment after suffering a knock against Exeter. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Leinster’s clarification of what Joe Schmidt said at the RTÉ Awards last weekend throws Johnny Sexton and concussion back centre stage this week.

The Leinster outhalf is now in a race against time to be fit for Leinster’s derby game against Munster on December 26th in Thomond Park.

However, while the next game is germane it is, as always, not the principal issue.

In an oddly twisted choreography Leinster head coach Leo Cullen confirmed after the win over Aviva Premiership champions Exeter that Sexton failed the HIA test, which is why he did not return to the match.

However Cullen was then contradicted by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt during RTÉ’s annual sports awards.

“He passed his HIA, he’s okay,” said Schmidt on television. “I spoke to him this evening. He’s fine. He’s likely to be back playing. It’s a period where the games get very congested over the festive season.”

While Leinster were at pains to point out that Sexton passed some of the elements of his HIA, he did not pass others, which all adds up to a failing of a test that indicates whether a player has suffered a possible concussion or not.

The replays of the collision with Exeter flanker Matt Kvesic as Sexton attempts to make a stand-up choke tackle show that he was clearly dazed. Ross Byrne made a similar tackle and also went for a HIA, which he passed and resumed playing.

In the same match Ireland hooker Sean Cronin suffered a nasty head clash and broke two of his teeth. He has since had dental attention.

While Sexton does not welcome talk about his past concussions, the injury has become a topic of conversation in the sport. Following recommendation from his doctors, the Ireland outhalf missed 12 weeks in the 2014-15 season following four concussions.

It should be said Sexton has not reported any concussion symptoms in recent times and was scathing of commentators who held opinions on what he should do, when they had no access to his doctors or his medical records.

Given clearance

His point was well taken. In this instance the regulations dictate that a player who fails a HIA must be stood down from playing or practising rugby and undergo return to play protocols.

As Leinster’s next outing away to Munster is on St Stephen’s Day, it gives Sexton ten days from the match with Exeter and nine days from the beginning of his protocols, enough to make him available to play.

Four stages must be passed for a player to be given clearance and perhaps that confused the conversation with Schmidt as Sexton had passed parts of the initial medical examination. Failure by the player to pass any stage ensures he must return to the beginning of the process.

Leinster said yesterday that they were “happy to clarify he [Sexton] failed HIA 1 and is following return to play protocols.”

Leinster had no information on Tuesday on how the 32-year-old was progressing with the programme.

Sexton is not alone with his injury. Ulster and Ireland back Jared Payne is still without a definitive timeline for a first rugby outing since June as he continues to suffer from headaches.

Payne last played on June 20th, when he was part of the British and Irish Lions’ win over his former club the Waikato Chiefs. Since then Ulster’s director of rugby, Les Kiss, has said the problem has persisted with heavy training loads exacerbating the issue and causing headaches.

Sean O’Brien will certainly miss the game against Munster. The Leinster flanker carried undisclosed injuries into the match with Exeter and he will not be available for selection.

“Non specific knocks I would describe them as,” said Leinster’s Stuart Lancaster. “At the end of the day he has played two massive games back to back and you could see he was struggling in the second half. It’s not something we’d be concerned about.

“But he’s a player we have to look after. He’s a top quality player. We’re not going to consider him for this week but it’s not a big injury crisis for Sean, that’s for sure.”

Lancaster also dismissed any link with the coaching job with Northampton. Always associated with vacant coaching positions especially in the UK, the former England head coach reiterated that he was content at Leinster.

“I’m contracted to Leinster until the end of next season, that’s my situation. I’ve not spoken to any English club,” said Lancaster.

“It’s almost an irrelevant point really because I’ve not spoken to anyone from any English club. They have not contacted me and I have not contacted them so to have me linked is pure speculation from my point of view.

“As I have said consistently, it wasn’t a hard decision to stay at Leinster.”

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