Magners League leaders Leinster will decide on Thursday whether or not to gamble on the fitness of Irish outside half Johnny Sexton ahead of this weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final in Toulouse.
Sexton has been missing from the European champions’ line-up ever since he kicked them to victory over ASM Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals.
After that game at the RDS in Dublin, where he landed seven out of eight kicks for a match tally of 19 points in his side’s sensational 29-28 win, Sexton was forced to undergo a surgery for a fracture to his jaw.
Since then the Australian Shaun Berne has slotted into the No 10 position with great skill in the Magners League, steering the Dubliners into the Magners League Play-Offs, and will play there in Toulouse if Sexton doesn’t come through.
“The only way that Jonny Sexton will be playing is if we feel that he can do his job to the fullest. If we have to play him, and hide him out the back or something like that, then he won’t be playing,” said Leinster coach Michael Cheika.
“If he can, and if he’s 100% confident that he can play, then he will play. If not, we have a lot of confidence in Shaun Bern and he will play
“It’s not like a hamstring tear or a calf strain – it’s pretty cut and dried. It’s going to come down to a bit of risk assessment; knowing what the ramifications could be and everyone being on board with that and then doing it if we decide to go down that route.
“I’d say we’re pretty comfortable with both situations. If he plays, fantastic. If he doesn’t, then we’ll look at the option and it’s pretty much certain that we’ll have him available for the rest of the year.
“We’ll make that call on Thursday and it will be a qualified decision based on the information that we’ve got. We’re a bit in the dark, but I suppose the opposition are in the dark as well.”
Cheika is more confident about having his British & Irish Lions full back Rob Kearney back in his starting line-up following his quarter-final injury. He is also hopeful that Shane Horgan, Girvan Dempsey and Fergus McFadden will all have shrugged off knocks.
With a potential double in their sights – Leinster are also top of the Magners League and set for a home semi-final in the Play-Offs – Cheika knows he needs a full strength squad to meet the challenges ahead.
“We know that we’re going to face the sternest test of our whole time together in Toulouse. It’s the biggest battle that we have ever come across and we’ll have to dig in and fight hard because we’re a couple of men down,” admitted Cheika.
“To do that will take a real team effort. We’re quite anxious for the game to get going and we’ve had a good preparation in the first few days of the week.
“Toulouse have been pretty clear that Europe is their priority and their coach has been talking all week about paying credit to the players for winning last weekend’s game in the Top 14 against Castres.
“They fancy their chances against us deep down and they’re probably pretty happy that they have drawn us. They see that as the quickest road to get to Paris.
“Their forwards coach has added a lot to their team and their programme is very profiled. In their back-row, for example, they know that have a strict ball carrier, a strict line-out operator and there’s a strict tight player.
“They know their profiles and, once they put their combinations together, it will be interesting to see the combinations they select. They will then give us an indication of how they are thinking about playing the game.”