Leinster will manage Johnny Sexton carefully ahead of Lions tour says Stuart Lancaster
STUART Lancaster insists Johnny Sexton will be carefully managed throughout the business end of a season that concludes with the British and Irish Lions' tour to New Zealand.
Sexton will return to Leinster's starting XV for their Champions Cup quarter-final against Wasps at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday in his first appearance since helping Ireland deny England back-to-back Grand Slams.
The 31-year-old missed the start of the championship with a calf problem but made enough of an impact on his return - including a brave shift against Eddie Jones' men - to identify him as favourite for the role of Lions Test fly-half.
Injury appears to be the main obstacle to his chances of featuring against the All Blacks, but Lancaster, Leinster's senior coach, expects him to enjoy a productive run-in.
"Johnny is available," Lancaster said. "He's not had a great run of games this season, but when he has played he's been excellent, particularly in Europe.
"He's just been a bit unlucky with minor injuries - they've been nothing major and hopefully he'll get a decent run now until the end of the season.
"He'll be managed over the next few weeks. Johnny won't play every match but he's certainly fit and available for this one.
"I wouldn't go as far as to say he'll be first choice for the Lions because there's a long way to go.
"He was frustrated to miss the first two Six Nations games because of the calf injury.
"To play as well as he did in the games that he did play, he has to be contention for the Lions squad, not just because of his talent but because of his experience as well."
Leinster and Wasps have set the pace in their respective leagues and score on average over four tries in each match, pointing to a high-octane showdown in Dublin.
"We're both top of our competitions and something will have to give," Lancaster said. "It's great to go into a game where both teams are attack-minded.
"But with my defence coach's hat on, we need to be conceding less than four tries to win."
Lancaster confirmed that Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney hope to recover from their respective back and knee injuries in time for the end of the campaign.