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Ireland defence coach Simon Easterby says they remain hopeful of Johnny Sexton and James Ryan being passed fit for Sunday's meeting with France.

And Easterby says they didn't consider calling in an extra outhalf, in the wake of the 21-16 defeat to Wales at the weekend.

Both Sexton and Ryan and undergoing the return to play protocols after suffering blows to the head in Sunday's game in Cardiff, while Sexton's replacement Billy Burns endured a day to forget at the Millennium Stadium, with his kick to the corner going dead as Ireland chased an equalising score.

Both Alan Quinlan and Brian O'Driscoll have suggested that Andy Farrell should bring Harry Byrne up the pecking order, but Farrell looks set to stick with Byrne the elder - Ross - and Ulster's Billy Burns for this weekend's meeting with France at the Aviva Stadium.

Speaking this afternoon, defence coach Simon Easterby says the two current deputies have earned their shot.

"No, not at this stage (considered bringing in an extra outhalf), no. 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 - the hard work they're putting in when they're not necessarily getting the minutes with Johnny being skipper. It wasn't a thought of ours 9to bring someone in), partly due to the fact we believe Johnny will get through those protocols and get back to playing. But we're confident and backing those guys who are in the system already and didn't feel the need to add to the squad," he said.

Following the opening day defeat to Wales in Cardiff, Ireland's campaign looks daunting, with a red-hot France arriving into Dublin this Sunday.

Fabien Galthie's side began their quest for a first title in 11 years by thumping Italy 50-10 in Rome, and Easterby says this Sunday's game already has the makings of a "cup-final" for Ireland.

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

"But there's still a massive opportunity at the weekend, the French coming to town, opportunities 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," he added.

After a slow start, the French looked irresistable once theyr got their noses in front versus Italy, with Antoine Dupont, Teddy Thomas, Brice Dulin and Gael Fickou all impressing.

Easterby says Ireland have to back themselves to shut down the youthful French upstarts.

"They pose threats across the park, you only saw on the weekend how dangerous they can be if you offer them space. It's certainly something that we are fully aware of, what we need to do is ensure that we can be better in what we do.

"We conceded two tries on the weekend, and I think both were avoidable, regardless of whether we were 14 or 15 men on the pitch. Making sure that we get our own things right first, certainly the threats that they pose are greater than some teams.

"Ball in hand, their ability to attack the gainline, to offload, to get behind teams, their kicking game, they are a multi threat team, but I think if we get our own house in order, then it becomes a lot easier to defend any team, regardless of their individuals."

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Billy Burns Irish Rugby Johnny Sexton Ross Byrne Simon Easterby Six Nations 2021

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