Belfast Telegraph

Sexton is a Six Nations' doubt after new calf injury

Castres 24 Leinster 24

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Johnny Sexton is in a race to be fit for the Six Nations after his injury-hit season took another turn for the worse in Castres last night. The Ireland out-half was forced off after 22 minutes of last night's 24-24 draw at Stade Pierre Antoine with a calf injury and must now be rated a major doubt for the opening game against Scotland in two weeks' time.

The draw means only a bonus point win by 62-plus points for Connacht in Toulouse tomorrow can deny the three-time champions a home quarter-final as they eked out a draw despite losing Sexton and captain Isa Nacewa to injury during the first half.

Sexton has endured a wretched period since missing last year's summer tour with shoulder surgery and this latest soft-tissue injury will cause him huge frustration.

The injury throws further attention on the duel between Ulster's Paddy Jackson and Bordeaux's Ian Madigan who go head to head at the Kingspan Stadium this lunchtime with Jackson now the favourite to wear the No 10 jersey at Murrayfield.

Sexton, 31, has been plagued with hamstring problems this season after suffering an initial tear on his left leg in the build-up to the first meeting with Castres and missed that game. He has not finished a game since.

Against Montpellier a week later, he came off at half-time and he got through an hour in the win over New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Two weeks later, he tore his right hamstring against the All Blacks and missed the final November win over Australia and the whole of Leinster's December programme as he looked to get to the bottom of the issue.

He returned to action against Zebre two weeks ago for 49 minutes and got through 56 minutes in last week's win against Montpellier.

Last night, however, he was forced off mid-way through the first half after missing a tackle in the build-up to Castres' first try, totalling a combined 127 minutes since the defeat to New Zealand on November 19.

Leinster were 10-7 up when their talisman was forced off, while Nacewa soon followed and they found themselves chasing the game for the entire second half until Dan Leavy's try, converted by Sexton's replacement Ross Byrne, and a big late defensive effort got them the two points they needed.

After an early scare, when captain Nacewa was perhaps fortunate not to be penalised for a late shoulder charge on Castres' winger Julien Caminati, the first 10 minutes were all about Leinster.

Sexton opened the scoring with a penalty in the ninth minute and barely 60 seconds later, Robbie Henshaw scored the first of his two tries when he picked up a loose ball near touch on halfway and ran unopposed across field to touch down.

Castres scrum-half Antoine Dupont then danced through a hole in the line to score.

Dumora levelled the scores on 30 minutes after Leinster were penalised for not releasing following a dangerous break from David Smith.

The winger would not be denied in the 35th minute after a smart run and a smarter offload from centre Florian Vialelle gave Smith just enough room to touch down in the corner.

Henshaw scored his second try under the posts three minutes into the second period. Byrne converted to level.

In the 53rd minute Smith scored his second try, and Castres' third, at the base of the posts. Dumora converted to make it 24-17.

Dan Leavy crashed over from close range and Byrne converted to take the scores to 24-24 with less than 15 minutes remaining.

Mick McCarthy was sent to the bin late on after a series of penalties.

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