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Leinster hope to welcome Sexton back for Ulster clash

The Leinster captain has yet to feature for the province this season.

Leinster captain Johnny Sexton.
Leinster captain Johnny Sexton.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

JOHNNY SEXTON COULD be in line for his first appearance of the season as Leinster prepare for Friday’s United Rugby Championship interpro derby against Ulster.

Leo Cullen’s side make the trip to the Kingspan Stadium with two wins from their opening two fixtures, and having welcomed back a number of their Ireland internationals for Friday’s 42-10 win over Benetton, Sexton could also come back into the mix this week.

The win over Benetton was overshadowed by reports Stuart Lancaster has agreed a move to Racing 92 at the end of the season.

Cullen declined to comment on Lancaster’s future post-match, but the former England head coach is due to speak to the media on Monday afternoon. 

Leinster captain Sexton is one of a handful of internationals yet to feature for the province this season, with Tadhg Furlong and Jamison Gibson-Park also waiting to get their 2022/23 campaigns up and running.

Gibson-Park had been in line to play against Benetton last Friday but fell ill during the week. James Ryan was pulled from the starting team after feeling some tightness in his hamstring during Thursday’s Captain’s Run, while Caelan Doris didn’t return to the action after being removed early in the game for a HIA.

James Lowe and Hugo Keenan both remain sidelined and unavailable for selection. Ciarán Frawley is also set for a spell on the sidelines, having being ruled out of the Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa due to a shoulder injury sustained against Benetton.

But Cullen is hopeful of being able to call on the services of Sexton and Gibson-Park this week.

“Johnny, yeah (he could return), we’ll see how Johnny goes during the week,” Cullen said.

“Jamison is another player who was on (the New Zealand) tour, he was sick this week. He was due to play originally but was sick, so he should be available assuming he’s OK.

“James Ryan, it was minor with him so we’ll see how he is this week. Tadhg, we’ll see how he comes through training.”

The Leinster v Ulster rivalry has become one of the league’s most fascinating fixtures in recent years, with Ulster beating Cullen’s team home and away last season. Dan McFarland’s side have also made a 100% start to the new season, beating Connacht on the opening weekend before overcoming the Scarlets in a 55-39 thriller at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.

“I think there’s a great rivalry there always, there has always been,” Cullen continued.

“The derby games, that’s what you want, you want the players battling it out against each other.

“It’s an unusual start to the season when you think some guys haven’t got up and running at all yet in our squad and in round three we’re into a big derby game away from home, so it’s a great challenge.

“Benetton do present a good physical test for you, at times there we got turned over at the ruck… We lose our way and Ulster will be strong in that area, they’re strong in the contact area and they talk about it a lot themselves, they clearly place a lot of emphasis on it.

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“How we are in that facet of the game will clearly have a large bearing on the outcome.

“It’s a good early contest for us, both teams will be missing a couple of players who are travelling away (with Emerging Ireland) so how that affects it, we’ll wait and see… Watching them against Connacht (in round one), that’s probably where they dominated Connacht, in those physical exchanges, defensively they caused a lot of problems for Connacht who played themselves into trouble at times.

“So it’s making sure we get that balance in our game, that’s going to be important.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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