'No setbacks so far' - Ireland optimistic Sexton and Ryan will face France

The pair were both removed with head injuries during Sunday’s defeat to Wales.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton leaves the field during Sunday's defeat to Wales.
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton leaves the field during Sunday's defeat to Wales.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Updated Feb 9th 2021, 3:03 PM

IRELAND ARE OPTIMISTIC that Johnny Sexton and James Ryan will be available for Sunday’s Six Nations meeting with France, with defence coach Simon Easterby confirming the pair have both come through the early stages of their return to play protocols without any setbacks.

Ireland were left counting the cost of a bruising defeat to Wales on Sunday as they regathered at their Carton House and HPC bases. As well as losing Peter O’Mahony to a red card, a head injury ended Ryan’s afternoon midway through the first half before Sexton was forced off, also with a head injury, as the game headed into the final 10 minutes.

“They are currently going through the return to play protocols,” Easterby said. “It’s a six stage set of protocols whereby each stage lasts about 24 hours and then if there are no symptoms resulting from the concussion, they can progress to the next stage.

“At the moment, they are going through that and there have been no setbacks so far.

“That’s where we are at at the minute. There will be more to say later in the week, but currently, they are both going through the same stage of protocol to return to play by the weekend.”

Ireland seem confident of having both Sexton and Ryan available for selection, notably deciding against calling in extra cover at out-half in this morning’s updated squad list.

“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.

simon-easterby Ireland defence coach Simon Easterby. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“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.”

Should Sexton not be available, Easterby said Ireland have full faith in both Billy Burns and Ross Byrne to fill in.

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“Billy and Ross have been with us for the last couple of weeks, we’re really comfortable with where they’re at and what they can offer the team. I think it’s credit to them and the hard work they’re putting in, not necessarily getting the minutes with Johnny being skipper but it certainly wasn’t a thought of ours (to bring in extra cover), partly due to the fact that we believe Johnny will get through the protocols and get back to playing, but also we’re confident and backing those guys that are in the system already and didn’t feel the need to add to the squad.”

Easterby added that the mood in the Irish camp is good despite Sunday’s losing start to the Six Nations campaign.

“This group is really resilient, and I don’t believe it’s that hard to do that (lift the mood),” he continued.

“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, 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.”

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