Ireland's Sexton and Ryan on track for France Six Nations clash

Dublin (AFP) –


Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton and vice-captain James Ryan are on track to feature in the "must-win" Six Nations clash with France, defence coach Simon Easterby said on Tuesday.

Fly-half Sexton and lock Ryan must each undergo phased return-to-play protocols after suffering head knocks during the 21-16 loss to Wales at the weekend.

But Easterby said Ireland were preparing on the basis the influential pair would be involved in Dublin on Sunday.

"At the moment, we're planning they get through each stage each day and they get that one step further to making themselves available by the weekend," he said.

Ireland endured a nightmare start to the tournament after the early dismissal of flanker Peter O'Mahony contributed heavily to Sunday's defeat in Cardiff.

That frustrating loss has heaped pressure on the side ahead of the arrival of an exciting, in-form Les Bleus side, who thumped Italy 50-10.

Easterby said Andy Farrell's men could not afford another setback if they were to retain hopes of winning the title, admitting the France match was effectively a cup final.

"We obviously didn't get the start we would have hoped for and it puts us in a more difficult position than we think we should have been," he said.

"But there is still a massive opportunity at the weekend, the French coming to town -- an opportunity for us to hopefully get parity in terms of numbers on the pitch and have the opportunity to showcase what we feel like we're building.

"For us to stay alive in the competition, it's a must-win."

Following O'Mahony's red card for a reckless hit on Wales prop Tomas Francis, head coach Farrell has bolstered his back-row options by adding Leinster forward Jack Conan to his squad.

The 28-year-old has earned 17 Test caps but not played for his country since the 2019 World Cup.

Uncapped back row Gavin Coombes has been released from the national team camp to return to training with Munster.