France game a cup final for Ireland, says Simon Easterby

France game a cup final for Ireland, says Simon Easterby

Simon Easterby: Hopes Johnny Sexton and James Ryan will be cleared to play France.

Ireland must prepare for a cup final against France this Sunday if they are to get their Guinness Six Nations campaign back on track, assistant coach Simon Easterby said yesterday.

An opening-round loss to Wales garnered a losing bonus point in a 21-16 defeat in Cardiff last Sunday, despite having Peter O’Mahony sent off after 14 minutes. It does, though, leave Andy Farrell’s men needing a victory if they are to retain any hopes of securing the championship title.

Defence coach Easterby agreed that Ireland were now on a cup-final footing ahead of Sunday’s Aviva Stadium clash with Europe’s in-form team.

“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.”

Yesterday, O’Mahony was hit with a three-week suspension at a Six Nations disciplinary hearing following his red card for foul play at a ruck in which his elbow caught Tomas Francis in the head as he attempted to clear out the Wales defender from the contact area.

With fellow back-rower Caelan Doris still out of the squad having showed symptoms of a possible concussion last week, Ireland called in Leinster’s Jack Conan while releasing the uncapped Gavin Coombes back to Munster.

Easterby also confirmed that the Irish management was planning for captain and fly-half Johnny Sexton and lock James Ryan to be involved this weekend having each been removed during the Wales game for Head Injury Assessments.

The pair have progressing successfully so far through their mandated six-stage return-to-play protocols and Easterby said there had been no setbacks so far.

“But obviously if a stage is failed, they have to drop back a day and that puts them under pressure,” the defence coach added. “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 Ireland have retained Ryan Baird in the squad as second-row cover for Ryan, having been added to the camp following the withdrawal last week of Quinn Roux (neck), Easterby said no consideration had been given to bringing in another fly-half. 

Aside from Sexton, Ireland have Billy Burns and Ross Byrne in the squad, although the former has come under intense scrutiny following his missed touch-finder penalty kick at the death against Wales that wasted an opportunity for a potentially game-winning lineout drive, and instead ended the game, to the home side’s relief.

“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.”

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