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Leinster have confirmed Johnny Sexton will be available for selection ahead of their final Pool 4 European Rugby Champions Cup game at Castres Olympique on Friday night.
Sexton was temporarily replaced in Leinster’s 57-3 win over Montpellier last Friday, but passed his Head Injury Assessment (HIA) and returned to the field. Head Coach Leo Cullen confirmed the fly-half had suffered a neck injury after a tackle which saw Francois Steyn get sent-off.
But since Senior Coach Stuart Lancaster added Sexton had passed further head injury protocols and will be available for the final Pool game.
He said: “He is fit and well and raring to go this week. It's the nature of the beast as a 10, if you're going to take the ball flat to the line, you're going to get hit a few times. On this occasion it was high and he suffered the consequences.
“On the basis of that performance, I think he's in a very good place. Johnny has a great ability to see the picture and what we've tried to do.”
And Lancaster is urging his side to stay focused for the Castres game, despite knowing qualification is already in the bag.
“It’s a massive motivator but another motivator for me is backing up the performance with another good performance,” added the former England head coach.
“We are away from home at Castres and we need to get the details right which we did in the lead-up to the Montpellier game.”
Leinster back Isa Nacewa leads the way with points scored in the Champions Cup this season on 75, but the New Zealand born could miss out on Friday nights’ game after suffering a dead leg last weekend.
Cullen’s team have been in ruthless form in Europe this season having racked up four wins from five games, including last Friday’s hammering of Montpellier which saw them become the first side to qualify for the knock-out stages.
In contrast, Castres’ hopes of qualifying took a hefty dent when they lost to Northampton Saints, 28-21 last weekend. Mathematically, the French outfit can still progress but those chances are unlikely given that no side has ever qualified for the knock-out stages with 15 points.
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Leo Cullen and his Leinster players will have to wait until Sunday to find out if they’ve done enough to earn a home quarter-final after being held to a draw in Castres.
There were two tries apiece for home star David Smith and Leinster’s Irish centre Robbie Henshaw as the visitors discovered just how hard it is to win at Stade Pierre Antoine. Castres may have been out of the running for a place in the last eight, but they put up a huge fight.
In the end, it took a magnificent rearguard effort from pool winners Leinster, who were reduced to 14 men for the final four minutes when Mike McCarthy went to the sin-bin, to hold on for the draw and two vital points. They now have to wait to see if Connacht can get the full five points in Toulouse to challenge them for a home draw.
Leinster went out of the blocks at breakneck speed and were 10 points ahead in as many minutes thanks to an early Johnny Sexton penalty and hen conversion of the first of Henshaw’s tries. But then the Irish playmaker limped out of the battle midway through the first half – they also lost sipper Isa Nacewa later on – to be replaced by Ross Byrne.
Just before Sexton left, Castres hit back with a try by scrum half Antoine Dupont and was converted by Julien Dumora to cut the gap to three points. Dumora then levelled things up on the half-hour before Smith struck with the first of his tries on the end of a sweet back line passing move for a try that Dumora converted to make it 17-10 at the break.
It seemed as though Leinster had steadied the ship two minutes into the second half when Adam Byrne came off his wing to act as first receiver from a scrum in the home 22 and make the break that allowed Henshaw to cross at the posts for his second try.
Ross Byrne’s conversion drew Leinster level, but they made too many mistakes, and snubbed too many chances, to build on that great start to the second half. They did tighten up on the defence – they missed 17 tackles in the first-half –but couldn’t stop Smith scoring his second try at the foot of the right hand upright for a try that Dumora improved to make it 24-17 to the home side.
Leinster got a chance to strike when Pierre Berard was sent to the sin-bin on 62 minutes. A minute later, replacement back row man Dan Leavy barged his way over from close range and Ross Byrne converted to level the scores again.
But it was Castres, who grew stronger as the game went on as they introduced more of their front line players, who finished the stronger and put Leinster under intense pressure. They held out in the end and will now have to sit and wait to see if they get a home draw.
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