Former Ireland and Lions forward Donncha O'Callaghan believes Johnny Sexton has paid the price for being looked after by a "good welfare programme".

The out-half has not been available for Leinster since the Champions Cup game against Exeter at the start of April after suffering a third head injury in two months.

The 35-year-old was left out of Warren Gatland’s squad for the tour to South Africa and the Kiwi cited concerns for his durability as one reason why the five-cap two-tour Lions stalwart was omitted.

Speaking on RTÉ 2fm’s Game On, O’Callaghan, capped four time by the Lions, said: "I feel Johnny Sexton is being punished for being part of a good welfare programme.

"We don’t put our players out if they are in any danger whereas in other countries, other teams, and I’ve played in other leagues, where they’ll put you on the pitch [even if you are not fully fit].

"I think it’s a mistake on leadership qualities as well. We are going in there with a new coaching staff and Johnny is a guy who will question things and push standards."

Follow Munster v Ulster (8.15pm) and Connacht v Leinster (Saturday, 7.35pm) on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra and RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport.

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