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Sexton following return-to-play protocols after Leinster confirm failed HIA against Exeter

Leinster have confirmed that Jonathan Sexton failed his head injury assessment (HIA) during last Saturday’s Champions Cup victory over Exeter Chiefs in Dublin and is now following the required return-to-play protocols, writes Brendan O’Brien.

Head coach Leo Cullen confirmed the failed test after that defeat of the Aviva Premiership champions and current leaders but was then contradicted by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt during RTE’s annual sports awards at the weekend.

"He passed his HIA, he’s okay,” said Schmidt on TV. “I spoke to him this evening. He’s fine. He’s likely to be back playing. It’s a period where the games get very congested over the festive season.”

A Leinster spokesperson duly clarified the situation on Tuesday afternoon, stating that the out-half, who sat out all but the first three minutes of the game at the Aviva Stadium, did not pass all of the four categories in the HIA three days ago.

Jonathan Sexton with Leinster team doctor Prof John Ryan during the Champions Cup match between Leinster and Exeter Chiefs. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The regulations dictate that a player who fails a HIA must be stood down from games for the next six games. Leinster’s next outing is away to Munster on St Stephen’s Day, ten days after their Exeter tie and nine days on from the start of his protocols.

Four stages must be passed for a player to be handed an all clear by the medics. Fail any stage at any time and it is a case of returning to the beginning of the process and starting all over again.

Sexton endured a difficult time with head injuries whilst a player with Racing 92, but, while he was stood down for three moths at one point, the player himself had not reported any such issues in recent times.

Whether Sexton would feature against Munster either way is another matter. With two Champions Cup weekends just gone and two more to follow in January – followed by the Six Nations – Ireland’s front-line internationals are raced lightly over the festive season.

The British and Irish Lion was injured last year when a Leinster side without a host of more of its top-line stars lost by 12 points to their old rivals at Thomond Park. As it is, over 20 of Schmidt’s Ireland squad are engaged in a national camp this week.

One man definitely not down for duty in Limerick next week will be Sean O’Brien who was “carrying a few knocks” going into the second of the back-to-back games against the Chiefs and is not being considered for selection this time around.

Sean Cronin fractured two teeth in that 22-17 win against the English side and has since had a procedure on the issue. He will be assessed further as the weeks goes on.