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12th Apr 2023

Leinster’s biggest selection dilemma for Toulouse rests on key fitness update

Patrick McCarry

Scott Penny

“We need that turning point, without any offence to Johnny Sexton.”

One legend looks to have drawn the curtain on his Leinster career, while lads like Jimmy O’Brien and Scott Penny are starting to ignite their’s.

A recent Johnny Sexton interview, published over the weekend, all but brought the curtain down on his Leinster career. The outhalf does not believe he will return before the end of this season.

With the World Cup looking likely to be his swan song, it may well be that Sexton’s last game in Leinster blue was an early January league win over Connacht, at The RDS, when he got an almighty dent in his cheekbone. Ross Byrne has effectively had the keys since November and Leinster is his side now.

“It needs to be that turning point, now, for Leinster and for Ross Byrne,” said Lindsay Peat. “He had one misplaced pass against Leicester, when he tried to get fancy, but, other than that, he was exceptional. He’s building in confidence, week-in, week-out.”

With the 10 jersey debate now put to one side, and Ross Byrne stepping up to the challenge, it leaves two areas of team, selection debate. The shoulder injury sustained by Ryan Baird in that win over Leicester would suggest Ross Molony and Jason Jenkins will scrap it out to start in the second row beside James Ryan.

The Leinster back row is a trickier one to nail down, and we will be waiting until later in the month to discover if Josh van der Flier [rolled ankle] is cleared to face Toulouse in the Champions Cup semi-final. On House of Rugby [LISTEN from 12:15 below], the panel discussed how Leinster’s back row could look for the visit of the five-time European champs.

Scott PennyLeinster players, from left, Caelan Doris, Scott Penny and Ryan Baird. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

Scott Penny pressing for starting role

On Tuesday, Leinster set off for South Africa and their two United Rugby Championship assignments, against the Lions and Bulls. Such is the province’s strength-in-depth that Leo Cullen is almost able to sheer off an entire travelling party that leaves his frontline/Champions Cup big-hitters back in Ireland.

Will Connors, Alex Soroka, Max Deegan and Rhys Ruddock were all selected to travel, meaning Cullen will be looking at a starting back row for Toulouse ideally from Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan, with Scott Penny covering blind- and open-side.

Van der Flier rolled his ankle in the Last 16 win over Ulster and missed the quarters win over Leicester Tigers. The 2022 World Rugby Player of the Year may yet be back but Lindsay Peat and Jason Hennessy acknowledged Scott Penny is pressing hard to start.

“I’d put Doris back to six, for Toulouse,” said Peat, before adding, “Sean O’Brien was up for media duty this week and said Ryan Baird’s injury might not be as bad as expected and they actually hope to have him back for the semi final.

“Scott Penny, well, what more can he do? He scored a try off the maul and was swatting Leicester players aside like they were small children… I think I’d leave him coming off the bench as more of an impact player. If Baird is back, play Doris at 7.”

Hennessy agreed that Doris could play just about anywhere in the Leinster XV and do a job. Toulouse will provide a sterner test than both Ulster and Leicester, so every team selection call will be mulled over.

Penny looks to have jumped the back row queue and getting minutes in big end-of-season games could yet boost his Ireland World Cup prospects.

WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY HERE:

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