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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Sexton was hit late a number of times in the first half.
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'It’s hard for him not to get frustrated' - Sexton bruised as Leinster batter Saracens
Mark McCall said his side didn’t plan to target the Leinster out-half.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

SARACENS WERE ALWAYS going to provide a rigorous examination of Leinster’s credentials, but Mark McCall denies their rough treatment of Johnny Sexton was pre-meditated.

Sexton was the subject of some borderline late and reckless tackles in the first half of this afternoon’s Champions Cup quarter-final, as the visitors appeared determined to unsettle the out-half.

After being clattered by Maro Itoje early in the contest, Sexton required treatment for a dead leg and then further incidents involving George Kruis, Mako Vunipola and Richard Wigglesworth riled the 32-year-old and home fans further.

How referee Jerome Garces didn’t brandish yellow for Wigglesworth’s hit — the scrum-half jumped into Sexton with his shoulder, making no attempt to wrap his arms — beggared belief.

“It was tough on Johnny because he had been played off ball a few times in the first half,” Leo Cullen said afterwards.

“It’s hard for him not to get frustrated, I’ll have a look back at the game but there were three or four incidents when he got hit late off the ball. I’ll have to have a look back and see how that unfolds but I think important to take those things in the context of the game.”

Sexton, as bullish and combative as ever, picked himself up and kicked 13 points for the hosts, while also kicking from hand and distributing with conviction — but there was one flash of petulance, a moment in which his frustration manifested itself.

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Johnny Sexton reacts after giving away a penalty Tommy Dickson / INPHO Sexton kicked 13 points as Leinster advanced to the semi-finals. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

After slotting a third penalty over from under the posts, Sexton was penalised for kicking the ball away from the halfway line as Saracens looked to restart the game, allowing Marcelo Bosch to thump one over from range.

“It was definitely very hard on Johnny in particular, because they were playing him which is the best way to describe it,” Cullen added. “But that meant there was going to be space for somebody else so it’s important we have that balance so we’re not relying on one player.”

Next into the press conference room was McCall, and when asked about his side’s discipline and whether they aggressively targeted Sexton, he said: “There certainly wasn’t any plan to do that. We wanted to make him make his decisions early. We wanted him to pass a little bit sooner than he wanted to, to kick a little bit earlier. But apart from that, there was no other plan.”

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