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Sexton in contention for Leinster's showdown with Ulster

The Irish provinces meet on Saturday.

Sexton at Leinster training yesterday.
Sexton at Leinster training yesterday.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

LEINSTER COULD BE handed a timely boost ahead of their New Year’s Eve clash against Ulster in the Guinness Pro12 [3.00pm, Sky Sports 2] with Johnny Sexton in the frame to feature in the inter-provincial fixture.

A decision will be made later this week to see if the 31-year-old is fit enough to take to the field in the RDS on Saturday, with Leinster head coach Leo Cullen optimistic of the Ireland international’s availability.

“He [Sexton] trained fully today. He looked pretty good out there,” Cullen said at yesterday’s press conference. “We’re pretty hopeful he’ll come through the week. He looked sharp.

“We are constrained in what we can actually do, in terms of team training with a short turnaround. But, Johnny was full of life today. He is keen to get back involved as soon as possible.”

The out-half, who has been out of action since picking up a hamstring injury in Ireland’s November’s loss against New Zealand, will again attend the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry this week.

“We want to try and do what’s best for Johnny,” Cullen continued.

“But, he’s dying to get back involved now at this stage because it has been a frustrating period for him being on the sideline watching his teammates playing in Europe and at the weekend as well.”

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking to the media at yesterday's press conference. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Squad rotation, driven by the player management system, proved costly for Leinster on St Stephen’s Day as the eastern province left Thomond Park empty-handed following the 29-17 defeat to Munster, but Cullen is expected to name a stronger side for Friday’s fixture against the northern province.

Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Jack McGrath, Josh van der Flier, Devin Toner and Garry Ringrose all took part in training in UCD, although Joey Carbery, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Mike Ross and Jordi Murphy remain unavailable for selection.

Meanwhile, Ian Nagle is being assessed after being withdrawn in the second period against Rassie Erasmus’ side, with Rob Kearney’s ankle also closely monitored.

“I thought the effort was really good against Munster. We made something like 240 tackles during the game. It tells the story really because we probably just absorbed way too much pressure,” the head coach said reflecting on Monday’s defeat.

“You couldn’t fault the defensive effort. The period either side of half-time, we didn’t manage particularly well.

“We gave away silly penalties which allowed Munster to kick field position.

“Once they get inside our 22, they are strong. I thought they were very efficient, the way they played. There are a lot of learnings for players.

“For some of the young guys, it was a big step up for them and, hopefully, they will be better for the experience.

“I presume Ulster were able to train properly yesterday and today, having played before Christmas whereas we’re trying to manage our way through.

“It’s part of the challenge of managing this period.”

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