Sexton was forced off in the second half against Connacht. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cullen highlights 'inconsistency' around high tackles as Leinster wait on Sexton update

The Leinster captain suffered a facial injury following a high tackle on Connacht’s Jarrad Butler on Sunday.

AS JOHNNY SEXTON walked off the pitch at the RDS on Sunday night, the frustration was etched on his face. With 63 minutes on the clock, the Leinster captain was no doubt disappointed to be leaving the action early. He maybe also felt his injury-enforced removal was partly his own doing.

Sexton left the field with a notable impression on his face; the result of a head-on-head collision with Jarrad Butler. The Connacht number eight – who was later forced off with an unrelated injury – was the ball-carrier in the incident, Sexton meeting him with a high tackle.

While Butler came on to the ball at speed and had taken possession just before carrying into Sexton, the Leinster captain was perhaps lucky not to receive a card after failing to lower his body before making contact, but referee Eoghan Cross let the collision go unpunished. Sexton may yet be cited.

Speaking after the game, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen admitted there is confusion around how the stand-up tackle is refereed, referencing two incidents in recent weeks – Cian Healy’s red card against Ulster which was subsequently overturned, and Ulster prop Andy Warwick’s three week suspension for a tackle which initially went unpunished against Sale Sharks.

Cullen was initially asked if he feels there is a problem around high tackles, given the number of incidents in recent weeks.

“The game is dynamic though, isn’t it?” he replied. “Guys coming onto the ball at speed, sometimes some of these head-on collisions, the ball-carrier is low to the ground, so it’s hard when you’re in the post-match because there’s multiple images that are going through my head.

leo-cullen-and-jonathan-sexton Cullen chats to Sexton after the game. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Obviously we’ve had a red card here and it’s deemed to be probably a yellow card post-game [Cian Healy v Ulster]. Then the following week Ulster have their own scenario in a game which doesn’t get penalised, and the guy gets three weeks [Andy Warwick v Sale]. So there’s a fair bit of inconsistency at the moment for incidents that are not the exact same, because there’s probably changes of direction in both of those as well. So there’s multiple factors.

“But there is a process. World Rugby have a process in place. EPCR have a process. So the referee has a checklist to go through, that’s readily available. So it’s sticking to the process, and the process makes sense.

But again, I’m not sure how connected say the citers are with the referees. There seems to be a serious disconnect there. We sometimes scratch our heads as well, so there’s definitely a bit of disconnect there.” 

Cullen added that he feels in some instances, there is little the tackler can do to avoid making a high contact.

“I do think there’s ball-carriers, they know they’ve got all the aces really, haven’t they? The ball-carrier is the one in control, so if I’m ball-carrier, I can run directly at you head first and that can come into the game as well. So it’s just trying to get the right balance. A busy time for the law-makers.”

Both Leinster and Ireland will hope Sexton doesn’t face too long on the sidelines – with the province due to issue an update today. The Connacht game was Sexton’s first start for Leinster since 10 October and just his second apperance since Ireland’s defeat of South Africa on 5 November.

The out-half would ideally get more gametime under his belt before Ireland’s Six Nations campaign kicks off against Wales in 32 days. At times against Connacht, Sexton looked a little off-colour, including two conversion attempts which sailed off target.

Otherwise it was a productive night for Leinster, the home side scoring seven tries in front of a bumper crowd at the RDS. Jordan Larmour stole most of the headlines with his two-try, all-action display, but Ryan Baird also impressed with another busy night in the Leinster backrow.

ryan-baird-breaks-free-to-score-a-try Baird scored a brilliant try against Connacht. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Having lined out in the second row against Munster on St Stephen’s Day, Baird was back in the number six shirt against Connacht and capped a busy night with a well-taken second-half try, using his speed to finish a brilliant move started by Charlie Ngatai’s break from deep.

“His athleticism, you can see it there,” Cullen said.

Charlie makes a great break and Ryan Baird (scores the try), it’s amazing ability. He’s one of the fastest players we have and he’s 6’6″… 

“He’s improving all the time. It’s just trying to figure out lots of little nuances, whether it’s playing second row (or six). That was an important step for him last week, the 50 minutes down in Thomond kind of leading the group.”

Now in his fourth full season in the Leinster squad, the 23-year-old is delivering some his best rugby and looks well-placed to play an important role across the second half of the season.

“That’s the thing for a young player, it’s very hard to have the full package isn’t it? It’s hard for a young player to make their mark. Particularly in the front five, if he’s playing as a lock. Six gives him a bit more freedom to play in the wider channels and you’ve seen that, where he’s popping up on the edge in that role, and he’s dangerous when he’s on the ball, jeepers, he’s properly quick now. 

“It’s the same defensively. Because of his speed, if he gets himself in an awkward position or the wrong position, he’s got the athleticism to get himself out of that position. 

“We’ve talked about Ryan for quite a while now so hopefully he kicks on and goes and gets better every week.” 

Get instant updates on your province on The42 app. With Laya Healthcare, official health and wellbeing partner to Leinster, Munster and Connacht Rugby.

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