Leinster lose 'enormous experience' as La Rochelle halfbacks return to training

Jono Gibbes believes Leinster have the depth to deal with Sexton’s absence.

Ihaia West and Tawera Kerr-Barlow are back in training.
Ihaia West and Tawera Kerr-Barlow are back in training.

LA ROCHELLE DIRECTOR of rugby Jono Gibbes says they don’t expect Leinster’s game to be greatly diminished by the absence of captain Johnny Sexton, although he did point out how much big-game experience the Irish province will miss out on due to the injury.

Sexton has been ruled out of Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final clash in France as he continues to deal with a head injury, meaning Ross Byrne is set to start at out-half.

“Obviously, it’s an enormous amount of experience missing out of the 23 with Johnny, who is a pretty important symbol,” said former Leinster forwards coach Gibbes.

“But really, over the last few years, Leinster have shown it doesn’t matter who plays.

“The expectation is to fit in and do their role and the machine keeps rolling. That’s a big blow for Johnny individually, a massive amount of experience lost, but the message from Ronan [O'Gara] to the players is just to understand it’s not about one player for Leinster. It’s their total collective that makes the difference.

“Ronan and myself understand the Irish system – game time and how they manage players, how Leinster use the Pro14. There are guys that get exposed to high-level rugby consistently.

“We don’t see a massive deviation from Leinster’s plan, it has served them really well for a long time under this coaching staff and I think for us, we just get on with what we do and not worry too much about exactly who is wearing their 10 jersey.”

La Rochelle have had their own concerns in the halfbacks with first-choice pairing Ihaia West [shoulder] and Tawera Kerr Barlow [neck] dealing with injuries, but Gibbes is optimistic the Kiwi pair will come through to feature against Leinster.

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“They’re both coming along well,” said Gibbes. “We really benefitted from not having a match on the weekend, so we weren’t over-exposed in a game again.

“Those two individuals you asked about have progressed well. We’re on the field today and our main session later is Friday so that’s the real test.”

La Rochelle’s other out-half, Jules Plisson, is also back training today after a recent hamstring injury and will hope to be passed fit for the semi-final.
Originally published at 13.03

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Murray Kinsella

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