Ireland coach Andy Farrell has hit out at the damaging midweek comments by two French neurologists about Ireland captain Johnny Sexton and his situation with concussion. Sexton took an accidental bang to head from Justin Tipuric during Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations defeat to Wales last Sunday and he has been ruled out of this Sunday’s round two game in Dublin versus France. 

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Sexton failed to meet the necessary markers on Thursday regarding the concussion return to play protocols and his place in the Ireland team has now gone to Billy Burns, the replacement whose experience off the bench in Cardiff ended with his missed touch-finder from a penalty to touch which sealed the win for Wales.   

Before Sexton was ruled out by Irish medics for the French clash, his health was subject to negative comments in France from two neurologists. Dr Jean-Francois Chermann, who recommended Sexton be stood down from rugby for twelve weeks when he was a Racing 92 player in 2014 due to repeated brain injuries, said in an interview with French radio station RMC Sport on Tuesday that the 35-year-old had sustained “30 concussions” throughout his career but he subsequently retracted that comment and apologised.

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Johnny Sexton has his say regarding the concussion comments from France

“As regards Sexton, we cannot say for certain that he has had 30 concussions,” Chermann told RMC Sport on Wednesday in a follow-up interview. “I should never have cited this figure without any explanation and I regret the wrong I have done to the player who was my patient and who I respect more than anyone.”

Jean Chazal, another French neurosurgeon and concussion specialist, had agreed with Dr Chermann’s initial comments, leaving an infuriated Sexton to bite back when he appeared at a media conference in Ireland on Wednesday.

“I thought there was a patient and doctor confidentiality, I’m pretty sure that exists in the world,” said Sexton. “I just can’t get over the fact someone thought it was appropriate to just come out of nowhere and start saying things that weren’t even accurate, that is the most hurtful thing.”

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Now Sexton’s coach Farrell has joined the chorus of criticism regarding what was said in France about his captain. “Honestly, I thought it stinked, I thought it stunk on so many grounds. I suppose I will leave it at that,” he said on Friday after he announced an Ireland XV showing four changes from last Sunday in Wales and four more alterations on the bench.   

Sexton wasn’t alone in not meeting his concussion return to play markers as James Ryan was also ruled out for the same reason. Conor Murray, meanwhile, tweaked a hamstring at Thursday training while Peter O’Mahony was suspended on Wednesday for three games following his red card against the Welsh.

“Johnny yesterday [Thursday] didn’t come through the HIA protocols. James earlier in the week and we just found out about Conor. Found out 15 minutes ago actually. He went for a scan on a slight hamstring trouble he picked up yesterday in training. 

“They’re fine, they’re in good spirits,” added Farrell specifically about Sexton and Ryan. “They are in and around the group and they have been very helpful this week so health-wise they are absolutely fine.”

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With regular skipper Sexton out along with Ryan, who skippered the team in the November defeat to England, Iain Henderson, a sub in Cardiff, will now take over the captaincy for the first time. “He brings authority, he also brings a calmness,” assured Farrell, who has also included Rhys Ruddock, the Ireland captain versus Russia in his last start in October 2019, at blindside in place of the banned O’Mahony.

“That was one of the really pleasing aspects of the game at the weekend against Wales regarding going down 14 men. There was a calmness throughout the leadership group, throughout the team, and Iain was right, front and centre of all that. He will be exactly the same, he will see it as a challenge he will get excited about and I’m sure he will lead the boys very well.” 

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