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Leo Cullen hails Johnny Sexton on Leinster return after mini sabbatical

Leo Cullen Johnny Sexton

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was delighted to see Johnny Sexton impress in his first game in five months.

Sexton has had plenty of time to rest over the summer, having played his last game of rugby against Exeter Chiefs in their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final back in April.

The Leinster and Ireland captain was a surprise omission from Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squadย and was given the summer off by Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, in what turned out to be an uneventful summer for Sexton.

Cullen was speaking to RTE after Leinster’s 40-21 defeat of Harlequins in their pre-season friendly at the Aviva Stadium and argued that the extended break might prolong the 36-year-old’s career.

Leo Cullen on Johnny Sexton.

“Really pleasing for Johnny just to get back out there. It’s been a decent lay-off for him so he’s nice and fresh which is good, like a bit of a sabbatical, time out for him, and add a bit more time onto his career which would be great,” Cullen said.

“He led the guys well over the last couple of weeks and it’s great to see him back out there, so much experience that he brings to the team.

“A positive 40 minutes for him and I thought Ross [Byrne] came in and controlled the game well in the second half which is a bit more challenging because there are so many changes in personnel and guys moving around particularly in the backline.”

Leinster set to start the season in good form.

While you can never read into a pre-season friendly too much, both Sexton and Leinster were impressive in their 19-point victory over reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins.

Neither side was at full-strength, although key Harlequins players such as Danny Care and Alex Dombrandt did start for the visitors, but they were no match for Leinster in the first half, who raced out to a 28-7 lead at the break.

The game against Harlequins is Leinster’s sole pre-season fixture this year, as the reigning Pro14 champions will now look to continue their dominance of the league in the newly-named United Rugby Championship.

First up is a game against the Bulls at the Aviva Stadium in two weeks’ time, who have proven to be the strongest side in South Africa in recent years.

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