'A lot of it was trying to tidy up the way he moves, so he's at less risk in the future'

Johnny Sexton makes his return for Leinster against Zebre tomorrow night.

EXACTLY 48 days after we last saw him involved in a game, Johnny Sexton will return to action in Leinster’s meeting with Zebre at the RDS tomorrow night.

The 31-year-old missed Ireland’s final Test match of the November series against Australia due to the hamstring injury he sustained in the second meeting with the All Blacks on 19 November.

Jonathan Sexton Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Following that win over the Wallabies, Joe Schmidt announced the possibility of Sexton taking some time on the sidelines, for “a window of time to really make sure that he can be more robust.”

And so it proved, with Sexton subsequently undergoing a regime of rehabilitation on his hamstring, much of the work done at the Santry Sports Clinic.

Having been involved in Leinster training in the past two weeks, Sexton is now ready for a return to playing, although the province’s head coach Leo Cullen indicated that there is still an element of the unknown about sending the out-half back into action.

Time will tell, won’t it?” said Cullen at the RDS today when asked if Sexton was now more robust. “Time will tell. His strength has increased during his time on the sideline, so we’ll see how he progresses.”

The hamstring injury Sexton suffered in November was in his right leg, but he had come into the series with doubts surrounding his fitness after an issue in the hamstring in his left leg.

However, Cullen rejected the notion that the Ireland out-half had become more susceptible to hamstring issues.

“We say ‘recurring’ but he’s only had a few,” said Cullen. “He’s had a few other soft tissue injuries over the last number of years, but in terms of hamstrings I don’t think it’s been a major problem.

“With what’s coming up, it was important to take a more conservative course of action. You can always try and push guys back at various stages and I think time will tell how good this period has been for the player. But he’s in good spirits, has trained well and is looking forward to getting back playing.”

Cullen said that surgery was never an option for Sexton, while revealing that the out-half has spent time working on how he moves in order to prevent further issues with his hamstring.

“It’s just more in terms of movement mechanics, is probably the bigger issue,” said Cullen.

Johnny Sexton's first game back after injury Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“Certain players are more susceptible to injuries based on the way they move, and a lot of the time he spent in Santry was in terms of trying to tidy up the way he moves, so he’s at less risk in the future. We will see how that progresses.”

Sexton’s comeback tomorrow night will be watched more closely than ever, particularly with such important challenges ahead for both Leinster and Ireland.

The eastern province face Montpellier and Castres in the Champions Cup in the fortnight following the Zebre clash, while Ireland are looking ahead to their Six Nations opener against Scotland on 4 February.

Sexton will be managed by his province in the coming weeks, but Cullen says that is no different to any other squad member.

“We manage all the players differently, so that’s just not Johnny,” said the former second row. “There’s other players who don’t move as well. You’re managing their training loads in a slightly different way with the understanding that you have to be able to partake in a good chunk of the team activities.

“But all the players are managed on an individual basis in terms of their athletic development programmes they undertake in the gym or on the field.”

Sexton captains a strong Leinster team against Zebre tomorrow night, with Luke McGrath partnering him in the halfbacks – a combination that seems likely to continue for the Montpellier game if they come through this clash unscathed.

Scrum-half McGrath welcomed Sexton’s return.

Johnny Sexton James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“He bosses you around the place really, but it’s great to have Johnny back,” said the 23-year-old halfback. “He’s been training away the last two weeks and he’s very eager to go. Just from the nine’s point of view, it’s great to have him outside.

“He’s constantly talking to you and giving out to you, but it’s great to have in the team. We’re all delighted to have him back.”

The hope now is that Sexton is, indeed, back for good.

Meanwhile, Cullen indicated that contract talks with Jamie Heaslip were progressing positively.

The Ireland number eight told BT Sport last month that he was considering all his options, with his current deal set to expire in June.

“A player has to assess his options and my agent is out there assessing the options for me and we will lay it all out on the table and make a decision at some stage,” said Heaslip. ”I’ve travelled a lot in my life. I’m an army brat and we lived abroad plenty.

“If that’s the call I have to make then that’s the call I have to make. We’re a long, long way from making any sort of decision.”

Asked about Heaslip’s contract situation today, Cullen was succinct.

Like would be the case with most other players, we don’t usually discuss them in this forum,” said the Leinster head coach. “Things are progressing well with Jamie and I’ll probably leave it at that.”

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