Sexton doubtful as Ireland looks to rebound
INJURY UPDATE: Andy Farrell says his Ireland side showed enough spirit in defeat against Wales to convince him they can become just the fourth side to win the Six Nations after losing their opening game.
However, they may face France without the injured duo of Johnny Sexton and James Ryan – who both left the field during Ireland’s loss to Wales in Cardiff this past Sunday.
They will go through ‘graduated return to play protocols’ ahead of the visit by France this week.
Jack Conan has joined the group at the Irish rugby High-Performance Centre and Ryan Baird will again train with the Ireland squad this week.
Ed Byrne, who provided additional front row cover for the trip to Cardiff, has also remained with the squad.
Gavin Coombes has returned to train with Munster after spending some time with the national squad last week.
Ireland pushed Wales all the way in a 16-21 defeat in Cardiff last Sunday, despite playing with 14 men for more than an hour.
Flank Peter O’Mahony was shown a straight red by referee Wayne Barnes after he hit Tomas Francis in the head with his shoulder. He faces a hearing on Tuesday and a ban.
But Farrell is looking ahead to Sunday’s home match against Fabien Galthie’s France, who showed signs of being the coming force in last year’s championship.
In the previous 21 years of the Six Nations, just three teams have lost on the opening weekend and recovered to win the title – England last year, Wales in 2013 and France in 2006.
“You come away with a ‘W’ [win] next week [against France] and then it’s game on,” Farrell told Irish media.
“So this is it, it’s a one-off game for us.
“We get ourselves back on the horse and then we get a week’s break and then we go to Italy after. So this is the week. This is the week to get our championship back on track.”
Farrell’s team faltered in Paris last October when the title was up for grabs, losing 35-27, but they are entertaining a French side who have not won at Lansdowne Road since 2011.
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“The competition is back on, isn’t it? Massively,” said Farrell.
“The Welsh will go to Scotland [who beat champions England on Saturday] and try and win there, so somebody’s record will go and it normally does that over the course of a Six Nations.
“We weren’t happy with our performance when it mattered over there in Paris, so the lads will be 100 percent up for the week ahead once we dust ourselves off and understand the reasons why about Sunday’s performance.”
Ireland’s line-out was vastly improved against France even though they lost the influential O’Mahony and star lock James Ryan in the first half.
Their impressive display reflected the immediate impact former captain Paul O’Connell has had made since being appointed forwards coach in January.
“The boys have been working really hard with Paul about owning that side of our game and some guys have really stepped up to the plate and took responsibility,” said Farrell.
“James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne have really ironed out a solid plan with Paul.
“That’s made our line-out certainly more solid so that’s a positive going into next week because certainly the French have got a pretty decent line-out defence as well.”
Leinster forward Jack Conan has been added to Ireland’s Six Nations squad, the Irish Rugby Football Union announced on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old, who has earned 17 Test caps but not played since the 2019 World Cup, will strengthen Farrell’s back-row options in light of the O’Mahony incident.
* Additional reporting by AFP