Ireland's Sexton out of France Six Nations match after head knock

·3-min read
Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton is expected to be fit to face France in the Six Nations

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has been left out of Sunday's must-win game against Six Nations favourites France in Dublin after suffering a blow to the head against Wales last week.

Fly-half Sexton, 35, failed to pass the return-to-play protocols after the incident in the 21-16 defeat in Cardiff on the opening weekend of the tournament.

The skipper's long-standing half-back partner Conor Murray will also be absent with a hamstring injury he picked up in training this week.

It will be the first time since 2011 that neither player has been present for a Six Nations match.

Ulster's Billy Burns will deputise in the number 10 jersey, while New Zealand-born Jamison Gibson-Park has replaced Murray at scrum-half.

- Sexton row -

Sexton became embroiled in a row this week with his former neurologist, who said the playmaker had suffered around 30 concussions during his career.

The player queried whether Jean-Francois Chermann, who treated him when he played club rugby in France, had broken unwritten rules on patient-doctor confidentiality.

Chermann later said he regretted his earlier claims.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday, said the incident "stank on so many grounds" but did not want to talk about it further.

Farrell has given Burns a vote of confidence after the England-born Ulster fly-half failed to find touch with a penalty in the dying seconds of the Wales match.

"Billy has been great, he is a proper footballer," said Farrell.

"Everyone makes mistakes and he understands that as he is a true professional and he has been outstanding this week in training.

"We chatted about it and then moved on and come Tuesday he has been fine leading as a fly-half should do."

Like Sexton, James Ryan was forced off with a head injury in Cardiff and misses the match against Les Bleus.

Ryan's second-row partner Iain Henderson steps in to captain the side for the first time.

"He brings authority and calmness," said Farrell of Henderson.

"That was one of the really pleasing aspects against Wales regarding going down to 14 men (when Peter O'Mahony was sent off) -- the calmness through the leadership and he was front and centre of that. I am sure he will lead the boys very well."

Elsewhere, Rhys Ruddock gets his first-ever Six Nations start in the backrow with O'Mahony serving a suspension after his red card against Wales.

It will his 27th cap but his first appearance since the 2019 World Cup.

France are aiming to win in Dublin for the first time in a decade, having thumped Italy 50-10 in their opening match.

Farrell admitted the absence of four senior players would be a big test of Ireland's squad depth but remained upbeat.

"We've obviously lost a few experienced players during the week but one man's loss is another man's opportunity," he said.

"It's been challenging but every Test week represents its own challenges but we are a squad and have been since we met up," he added.

"Everyone has been slotting in and out. It is always at the back of your mind the what-if scenarios but the side will be going out with full confidence, meeting a really exciting French team and we will give it our best shot."