Byrne can fill Sexton's boots, insists Cullen
Leinster boss Leo Cullen has no doubts that Ross Byrne can guide the side to a place in Europe's last four this evening.
Last season's Champions Cup winners will face Ulster in their Aviva Stadium quarter-final (5.45pm) without Johnny Sexton after the World Player of the Year was ruled out through injury.
Byrne will therefore be the man in the ten jersey despite never playing knock-out European rugby but Cullen believes he is ready for the big stage.
"It is a great step for Ross," said the former lock.
"If anybody deserves it, he is probably the person who deserves it more than anybody else in the group. In last year's European campaign, Ross was unbelievably unlucky to miss out on the quarter-final, semi-final, final of Europe after the role he played during the campaign.
"In the game here against Exeter (in December 2017) when he comes on early, he leaves for an HIA, comes back on and steers us around the field after we were 17-3 down in that game. He played a huge role that day.
"Away against Montpellier (in January 2018), he started that game over there which meant we got a top seeding.
"He has played such an important role this year, in round five and round six (of the pools). He is in good form at the moment. He's confident at the moment. The fact he hasn't been in (Ireland) camp means he's very clear on what we're trying to deliver as coaches.
"That makes a big difference. For other guys dropping back in and out, it is more difficult. Ross has a good, clear picture in his mind as to what we are all trying to do and he's delivering well on that over the course of the season.
"He's pretty integral to a lot of the good things that have taken place so far this year."
Like many of the side named to start today, Byrne did not play in last week's PRO14 defeat away to Edinburgh thanks in his case to a late niggle but Cullen doesn't appear concerned about the player's fitness.
"Ross was going to play originally but we pulled him," the coach confirmed.
"It was a great experience for Ciaran (Frawley) because we need to invest in him as well.
"We lost Noel Reid during the game and he is someone who has been important for us this season. When we lost him after 11-12 minutes last week, it was erring on the side of caution.
"Because of the work that has gone on to get us the home semi-final in the PRO14, you have the luxury of making some of those decisions.
"You are relying on the next person to step in.
"I say it all the time, 'always be ready' because of the work that's gone on to get us to a home semi-final and again just relying on the next person.
"We say it all the time, always be ready.
"So, they know the game plan, they get the same information," he added.
"Just because you're not named in the 15 or 23 or whatever it is but they still need to be able to deliver on that, if the situation arises.
"I had this conversation with Ciaran Frawley yesterday morning," he said.
"So, he needs to be ready to step in just in case something happens."
European Champions Cup quarter-final:
Aviva Stadium, Today, 5.45pm