Leinster confident in Byrne if Sexton fails to shake off calf injury for Bath

LEINSTER WILL GIVE Johnny Sexton every chance of proving his fitness in time for Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup return match against Bath, after the out-half limped out of last weekend’s win at the Rec.

The province are hopeful Sexton will shake off his calf problem and be available for the round four clash at the Aviva Stadium [KO 5.30pm, BT Sport], but are also confident in his deputy, Ross Byrne, should he be called upon to start. 

Byrne will start if Sexton fails to shake off a calf problem. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Sexton, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, will be limited in his training load at the start of the week and Leo Cullen is sure to wait until the last minute before a definitive decision is made on the 33-year-old’s availability.

That being said, Leinster would have no concerns should Byrne be handed the reins for the visit of Bath to Dublin, with the former St Michael’s College man — who earned his first Ireland cap during the recent November series — an ever reliable performer at 10.

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Byrne came on for the final 10 minutes of Saturday’s 17-10 victory over the Premiership outfit, nailing the clinching penalty to seal an important result for Cullen’s side as they stayed in touch with Toulouse in Pool 1 at the halfway mark of the pool stages.

“We’re optimistic and hopeful but you couldn’t say for definite at the moment,” Stuart Lancaster said of Sexton’s fitness.

“He got a bang on his calf, which has meant that he is going to be limited as to what he can do at the start of the week. We will give him as long a time as possible to get himself available.

“If he is not we have every confidence in Ross. I think the progress he’s made certainly in the course of the last 12 months in particular [has been impressive].

“He played well in the November internationals when he got his opportunity. I thought he was excellent against the Dragons, one of the best performances I have seen him play.

“He is certainly confident and ready to go if Johnny is not.”

Leinster also reported Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Jordan Larmour and Rory O’Loughlin all came through their respective injury returns unscathed, and are available again this weekend. 

O’Loughlin could be in line to start in midfield alongside Garry Ringrose, having come off the bench at the weekend, and is set to play an important role for Leinster over the busy festive period with Robbie Henshaw sidelined.

The Ireland centre’s hamstring injury, sustained in advance of the Test against Argentina last month, is more severe than first anticipated and will keep him out for a further eight weeks. 

Henshaw’s hamstring injury is worse than first feared. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Emerging as an injury doubt for the start of Ireland’s Six Nations defence, the loss of Henshaw is a blow for Leinster, as he will miss the final rounds of their Champions Cup pool campaign.

“Obviously it is a huge hole to fill,” said Lancaster. “That alongside Joe Tomane being out for a longer period of time; your two physical centres who would bring that balance to your backline. We’ll definitely miss Robbie, particularly for his experience.

“When you look at European games you can pretty much put them at almost Test level in terms of the intensity. Particularly when you are playing against a side as good as Bath with so many international playing and so motivated to play well.

“You want all your big-game players playing and unfortunately we were missing Robbie but were delighted to get the win overall. It was a tough place to go and win. People might have underestimated how hard it was.

“It reminded me of going to Exeter last year and the game back at the Aviva will be just as tough because if you look at the game against Exeter here last year as well we only got on top of them in the last 10 minutes really.” 

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