James Crombie/INPHO Sexton celebrates the Grand Slam.
# depth chart
Sexton hopes to return before end of season as Leinster assess 10 options
The province’s captain was injured as Ireland claimed the Grand Slam last weekend.

LEINSTER FANS WILL be hoping with all their might that Johnny Sexton can recover from his groin injury before the end of the season.

It would be a crying shame if his last appearance for the province proves to have come back on 1 January when he suffered a facial injury while making a high tackle against Connacht and was forced off after 63 minutes.

It wouldn’t be right for Sexton to have to finish his 16 seasons with Leinster stuck on the 189-cap mark where he stands right now. We know that the determined 37-year-old will do everything in his power to make it back before the end of the campaign, which concludes with the URC final on 27 May.

A week before that, it’s the Champions Cup final in Dublin. All going to plan, Leinster would be finishing their season with two home finals. What a way that would be for Sexton to bid farewell.

There are just nine weeks remaining in Sexton’s last campaign with Leinster so the race to get fully fit is on. He was worried about the groin in the immediate aftermath of Ireland’s Grand Slam win, saying that “it doesn’t feel too good” and the latest update highlighted that he will see a specialist.

“Hopefully the injury won’t be too bad,” said Sexton on The Good, the Bad, and the Rugby podcast this week. “I’ve got to go and see a couple of people about it but hopefully, fingers crossed, I can get back in a few weeks.”

And so say all of Leinster’s fans.

For now,  Leo Cullen has a few other strong options in Leinster’s number 10 shirt. With Ross Byrne having the weekend off as he recovers from his involvement in all five of Ireland’s Grand Slam games, his younger brother Harry continues at out-half against the Stormers at the RDS tomorrow night.

harry-byrne Tom Maher / INPHO Harry Byrne has been playing well recently. Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

With the South Africans locked and loaded, having brought their Springboks to Dublin with the aim of making a big statement, 23-year-old Byrne will hope to deliver a composed display. Having put his injury spell behind him, Byrne has been in good form for Leinster recently, particularly against Cardiff in late January.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Harry was third-choice in Ireland’s out-half pecking order and his older brother couldn’t get a look in. Ireland boss Farrell brought Harry to New Zealand last summer with the intention of starting him at 10 in both midweek games against the Maori All Blacks.

Unfortunately for Byrne, he picked up an injury and wasn’t able to feature at all. Instead, Ciarán Frawley stepped up at out-half and impressed on that tour, forcing his way up the pecking order. Frawley was then set for a Test debut last November but injury struck him too.

Having recovered from his knee injury, Frawley was back in Ireland camp at the tail end of the Grand Slam campaign, a reminder that Farrell rates him. Frawley’s versatility is very useful and it’s underlined once again by him starting at inside centre tomorrow, having returned from injury at fullback against Edinburgh at the start of this month.

Ross Byrne is expected to start for Leinster at number 10 against Ulster in the Champions Cup round of 16 tie in Dublin next weekend, but Harry Byrne and Frawley are good options there too.

Tomorrow, 21-year-old academy out-half Charlie Tector provides cover from the bench, having already made five senior appearances. The Kilkenny College product was a central figure in the Ireland U20s’ Grand Slam last year and is well-rated within Leinster.

Of course, the province also have the current Ireland U20s Grand Slam-winning out-half in their academy. It’s no exaggeration to say that Sam Prendergast is one of the most promising U20 players in the world. Potential comes with no guarantees but former Newbridge College man Prendergast has a huge amount of it.

sam-prendergast Ben Brady / INPHO Sam Prendergast at Leinster training. Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

He has attracted interest from elsewhere in Ireland and also at least one English club, but he wants to play for Leinster. He’s been training with the senior squad and played in a pre-season game against Harlequins last summer. Leinster expect big things of him.

So there’s lots going on in Leinster’s out-half depth chart. Ross Byrne is 27, Frawley is 25, Harry Byrne is 23, Tector is 21, and Prendergast only turned 20 in February. 

Even when Sexton hangs his boots up, you have to wonder how Leinster are going to manage to keep all of these players happy with enough game time. To be fair to Leo Cullen, he has mastered that art and Leinster invariably keep the players they want to keep.

For now, they drive on without Sexton but he will be pushing hard to get back for those big days in May.

- This article was updated at 2.50pm to correct Sam Prendergast’s age from 19 to 20.

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