“Leinster deliver an update on Johnny Sexton’s knee injury later today and everyone will be waiting anxiously on this…”
In the end there was no news but this didn’t necessarily represent the good variety.
Nobody should take false hope that the delay of any early assessment of Sexton’s latest injury might prompt some cause for optimism. Rather, a further scan suggests that the diagnosis may be worse than anyone suspected.
The most immediate consequence is that the Leinster captain will be excluded from the rematch against Northampton at the Aviva this Saturday, an absence that will not detain Leo Cullen’s men from sweeping to victory as they sail serenely towards the knock-out stages.
Nothing, it appears, might stem that particular passage, the seamless transition with which Cullen can alternate his galacticos confirms their status as favourites to regain their crown from those dastardly Saracens.
Sexton’s painful exit on Saturday illustrated how unruffled this awesome Leinster side really are.
Ross Byrne replaced him and immediately kicked a successful conversion. Within five minutes he added a try of his own.
Quite clearly, Leinster were on their way to the victory by the time they had nabbed their now familiar score on the verge of half-time but the symbolism was potent nonetheless.
Removing Sexton does not eliminate Leinster’s threat.
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It has at once been used as a compliment but also a criticism of Byrne that he is merely a clone of his gilded colleague.
As he demonstrated last season, however, notably when stepping in for the hampered Sexton, Byrne has his own vibrant personality.
That has arguably been one of the most significant character traits of the dominant Leinster side that Cullen, and latterly Stuart Lancaster, have cunningly conspired to bring together.
Simply, that they have created a template which ensures that the collective subsumes the individual; that the structure will not weaken with the removal of just one constituent part.
This will be one of the biggest challenges that faces new Irish head coach, Andy Farrell, particularly as he is well aware how Ireland struggled as a result of over-reliance on their out-half.
There has been a steady rush of voices clambering to deliver criticism on Joe Schmidt’s final year in charge – pity they weren’t more vociferous during the boom times.
What was always a feature of Schmidt’s reign was the fact that the harder he tried to make Sexton – when unavailable through injury – dispensable to his plans, the opposite happened.
This has as much to do with Sexton’s genius, as distinct from the manner in which his rivals either removed themselves from the fray – Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson chiefly come to mind – as well as the inability of domestic rivals to comprehensively challenge him.
As late as the World Cup, Ireland gambled on keeping Sexton in reserve against Japan and instead selected Jack Carty who was well down the list of reasons for defeat but couldn’t provide the elemental force, akin to that of the man he was replacing, which might have rescued the situation.
Joey Carbery’s injury also shrouded the last months of Schmidt’s reign, too; we’ll never know if, perhaps, the Kiwi’s nascent plans to alter his style during the summer might not have been stymied had the fragile play-maker’s fitness not failed him again.
Farrell has been one of the closest men to the Schmidt/Sexton marriage.
Just as it was surprising that the senior players did not deign to challenge their master’s voice this year, it would seem odd that the coaching staff wouldn’t have done so either.
They may never tell us but now Farrell and his colleagues will be judged upon their actions and the potential removal of Sexton from their plans, while a devastating personal blow for the player, could represent a stimulating challenge.
A national opportunity could yet emerge from a personal catastrophe.
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