Ireland expecting Sexton and Ryan to be fit to face France

Defence coach Simon Easterby says the Irish management expect them to be available

The Irish coaches are continuing their preparations for Sunday's must-win 2021 Six Nations game against France at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 3pm) on the basis that Johnny Sexton and James Ryan will be fit to play.

Both were removed during the course of the defeat by Wales last Sunday without returning after suffering blows to the head and are undergoing a six stage set of protocols. Given the seven-day turnaround, and with neither player having suffered any setbacks, defence coach Simon Easterby said the Irish management expect them to be available.

“Yeah, as far as we are aware, that’s exactly what we are planning. But obviously if a stage is failed, they have to drop back a day and that puts them under pressure.

“Our primary focus is their health and safety first and foremost. If a player, which may well be the case at some stage this week, feels like they can’t complete the stage that they are in, then they obviously have to drop back a stage and that compromises their availability.


“We are aware of that and obviously we have plans in place to potentially have to deal with that if they come along. But at the moment that’s what we’re planning for, is that we get through each stage each day and they get that one step further to make themselves available by the weekend.”

While Jack Conan has been called up to the squad pending Peter O'Mahony's likely suspension, and Ed Byrne and Ryan Baird are continuing to train with the squad as further cover, there were no plans to call up additional cover at outhalf.

“He’s gutted but he had to leave the field, the lads had to continue for a large chunk of the game with 14 men,” said Easterby of O’Mahony. “He’s going through the process today of the hearing and he’s able, I guess, to give his account of what happened but people make mistakes. That happens.

“On the whole we responded really to that and I think obviously it would have been far better if we’d have had 15 men on the pitch but the decision was made. There were other decisions in the game that weren’t made and we have to deal with that so (there is) disappointment and massive disappointment for Pete.

“He’ll have to deal with that himself but certainly the guys have rallied round and hopefully we’ll get him back into the mix sooner rather than later.”

Despite the damaging setback to their ambitions in Cardiff, and the manner of it, Easterby maintained morale in the squad was good.

“This group is really resilient and I don’t believe it’s that hard to do that. Disappointment will live with the lads for a good while, I’m sure, but we know in sport that when you get an opportunity to turn things around and play quickly after a defeat then there’s no better thing to do.

“We’ve had a day of recovery, both mental and physical yesterday, chats around the group, the opportunity for players to air a few thoughts and to chat amongst themselves and for us as coaches to reflect on performance, and today it’s back to business.

“We have to hit the ground running and as much as there are a few sore bodies around, but mentally the players are in a good place and they understand what it will take to get a result this weekend and also the need to do that to stay alive in the competition.”

Easterby concurred that this Sunday’s game was akin to a Cup final.

“Yeah, I think that’s a good way of putting it. We obviously didn’t get the start that we would have hoped for and it puts us in a more difficult position than we think should have been.

“But, there is still a massive opportunity at the weekend. The French are coming to town, it’s an opportunity for us to hopefully get parity in terms of numbers on the pitch and have the opportunity to showcase what we feel we are building.

“For us to stay alive in the competition, it’s a must-win.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times