Johnny Sexton will travel with the Lions, once he gets the all-clear 2 weeks ago

Johnny Sexton will travel with the Lions, once he gets the all-clear

You can't blame Leinster for accentuating the positives first.

In their medical update, issued earlier today, Leinster saved the bad news about Johnny Sexton until the end. The province's captain and all-time record points scorer is out of the Champions Cup semi final.

Added to that injury blow was the news that Harry Byrne [hamstring] is a doubt for the game, too, while Ciarán Frawley and his tender hamstring might just be able to make it to the replacements' bench at Stade Marcel Deflandre, on Sunday.

On a lighter note, the four-time European champions confirmed James Ryan, Garry Ringrose, Scott Penny and Tommy O’Brien all came through their recent return, against Munster, with no flare-ups. Ringrose has goal-kicking experience so don't rule him out of stepping up, if needs be. On Sexton, the release read:

'Unfortunately captain Johnny Sexton continues to be unavailable and will continue to train and be assessed as part of the Graduated Return to Play process.'

Like Caelan Doris and James Ryan, Leinster - no doubt with close consultation with the IRFU - are taking a cautious approach to players that have suffered multiple concussions this season. Doris was supposed to return against Munster, too, but a calf strain saw him pulled from the match-day squad. He has not played since January 23rd.

For Sexton, as tough as it is for the player, Leinster fans and his teammates, this is the right course of action. He was concussed in the Six Nations defeat to Wales, missed the following week's game against France, but played all 80 minutes in wins over Italy, Scotland and England.

A positive Covid-19 case in the Toulon squad saw him spared Champions Cup 'Last 16' action but he started against Exeter Chiefs, at Sandy Park, only to leave the field of play after 26 minutes. He had not returned after undergoing a Head Injury Assessment and has not played since.

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Johnny Sexton leaves the pitch for a Head Injury Assessment during the Champions Cup quarter-final against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

For Leinster, they will now start Ross Byrne, who had a fine game against Exeter. You can bet your life La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara will be telling his pack, and centres, to make Byrne's Sunday a living hell.

For Sexton, the primary concern is that he gets through the next few days and weeks showing no adverse symptoms relating to those recent concussions.

After that, there's the Lions. The touring squad is announced next Thursday, May 6, and many will understandably see him missing this weekend's game as a huge set-back.

Former Lions captain Sam Warburton, who toured with Sexton in 2013 and 2017, recently spoke of a conversation he had with 'another well-respected ex-Lion' as Sexton left the game at Sandy Park.

"I remember he said, 'That's why I worry, he might not be able to start a Test match'.

"Because that's been happening a little bit more often in recent years, and you don't want your 10, who is effectively your quarter-back, going off after 10 minutes, having to reshuffle and use your bench early and show some cards early that you weren't going to use until the last 20, 30 minutes.

"So that is probably the only thing going against him. You see him with his hamstring strapped up, and he has certain issues. I think he'll go on tour, because he would be invaluable to have, but they will have to judge what he's like out there.

"Hopefully his body can withstand it, but if he's picking up niggles out there, it's going to be very difficult for him to be a Test starter."

The Welshman was commentating for BT Sport at the game with Brian O'Driscoll, who did comment on Sexton's head knock with regard with the Lions.

Warburton has a point, but try telling Sexton he is going on a Lions Tour to make up the numbers.

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My take on matters is that Warren Gatland - knowing how much he will need the likes of Sexton and Owen Farrell in South Africa - may have already decided the 35-year-old is going to make his squad.

With that in mind, it makes even more sense for Sexton to be pulled from the line of fire. Had he picked up another head-knock against Munster or La Rochelle, that would have been his season done.

As it stands, a Leinster win over La Rochelle gives him another couple of weeks to get the all-clear for a final tilt. Once Gatland gets the all-clear, he will select Sexton to travel. Should there be any set-backs, the likes of Finn Russell or even George Ford could get their ticket punched.

Don't expect Gatland to re-invent the wheel against the Springboks. He will go with those that he knows and trusts. Sexton is right up there.

If Byrne navigates Leinster through another tough away game, he will have a strong, strong claim to start the final.

We could have the sight of the presumptive Lions starting outhalf being on the bench, deputising for Ross Byrne in a European final.