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'Johnny is absolutely training the house down' – Leinster back Sexton for Lions

Stuart Lancaster says the province would have no concerns if their captain toured to South Africa.

Leinster captain Johnny Sexton.
Leinster captain Johnny Sexton.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated May 5th 2021, 8:27 AM

STUART LANCASTER SAYS Leinster would have no concerns about Johnny Sexton touring with the British and Irish Lions this summer.

Sexton missed the Champions Cup semi-final defeat to La Rochelle on Sunday and remains unavailable for selection as he continues his recovery from a series of head injuries. The out-half was stood down from action after receiving head injuries against Munster, Wales and Exeter this year, and there is currently no timeframe on his return.

His extended absence will be an obvious point of concern for Warren Gatland, who names his 36-man Lions squad this Thursday, with Sexton not having played since Leinster’s win over Exeter on 10 April.

However Lancaster said that Sexton is progressing well with his recovery and would be able, if selected, to withstand the demands of a Lions tour.

“Yeah, I think so,” Lancaster said.

“Nobody can control what happens in any game of rugby, there’s going to be injuries and all sorts of things that happen.

“All I can report, and it’s up to them (Lions selectors) to decide, but all I can report is him training at the moment and he’s flying, doing extras. He’s in as good a shape as I’ve seen.”

jonathan-sexton-with-stuart-lancaster Sexton (left) with Lancaster. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

A number of Leinster players will be concerned that Sunday’s defeat in France will work against them as Gatland sits down to finalise his squad this week. 

Lancaster’s message to those players was then even if they miss the cut tomorrow, the door is never fully closed.

“I think everything in the lead up to the final selection can all play a part in the final selection, definitely,” Lancaster added.

“I’ve been through this picking a World Cup squad in 2015, the warm up games before, everything, the training sessions you see, has an impact on you. But you’d much rather be in those games and playing at this level than sat at home waiting for the phone to ring. I think Leinster have proven that we have big players and they’ve proven it with Ireland.

The squad is getting announced on Thursday, there’s 36 players, you can’t tell me that the 36 that’s named on Thursday is going to be A: the same 36 that goes on the plane to South Africa, and B: remain the only 36 that will play for the British and Irish Lions this season.

“The schedule leading into the actual departure (for South Africa) with the English Premiership semi-final and final which will undoubtedly involve some players, these Rainbow Cup games we’re playing in, the Japan game, games against the Stormers, the Bulls, the Sharks…

“I don’t know what the actual (Lions) schedule is, but you look at it and think of how hard it was when we played the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and how hard a game that was. The Lions have got that Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, plus South Africa A and three Tests. 

“If I’m not picked, I definitely want to go on my country’s tour and I want to be ready to go. That’s my message to the lads who don’t get picked from any country, a lot of things can happen. There’ll be more than 36 players that represent the Lions.”

the-leinster-team-huddle-after-the-game Leinster European season ended against La Rochelle on Sunday. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

Leinster’s squad will be on a day off when the squad is announced tomorrow, but those who travelled to La Rochelle at the weekend will still be together as they continue their mandatory quarantine following the trip to France. 

“I guess everyone will be sat at home, or wherever we are in our hotel and just watching it. Robin (McBryde) will get a bit of an insight. So, I think he’ll have a good idea before Thursday.

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“If you went through the lads from Leinster who play for Ireland, the lads in the pack, there are quite a few who would definitely be under consideration.

“If Caelan (Doris) hadn’t had the knocks he had, I think he’d be there as well. The likes of James Ryan and Jack Conan, you know the front rows, Rónan (Kelleher), Ports (Andrew Porter), Tadhg (Furlong), Robbie (Henshaw) obviously, Garry (Ringrose), you know the outside backs.

“And Johnny is absolutely training the house down, he’s trained today, his eye is in, I can tell with Johnny when his eye is in, he just sees the game so quickly.

“From my point of view he’s a world class player and he’d be a huge addition, I think, personally. But I know there is huge competition in there as well with Finn Russell and Owen Farrell, George Ford I thought was excellent at the weekend for Leicester against Ulster, Dan Biggar, obviously very good, so it’s competitive but I’d back Johnny for sure.”

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First published today at 06.20

About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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