Simon Easterby believes Ireland’s players possess the resilience to bounce back from their defeat to Wales after describing this weekend’s meeting with France as ‘a must win’.
Ireland’s bid for the 2021 Guinness Six Nations title got off to a losing start in Cardiff on Sunday when they slipped to a 21-16 defeat at the hands of Wales at Principality Stadium.
Andy Farrell’s side had led 13-6 at the break thanks to a Tadhg Beirne try despite being reduced to 14 men from the 14th minute after Peter O’Mahony was shown a red card.
Tries from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit ended Ireland’s resistance in the second half but despite the setback, defence coach Easterby remains optimistic about their Championship hopes.
“We obviously didn’t get the start that we would have hoped for,” he said. “It puts us in a more difficult position than we think we should have been, but there’s still a massive opportunity.
“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.”
Sexton set on building momentum with win over Wales
Ireland could be without captain Johnny Sexton for the contest against Les Bleus, who opened their own Championship campaign with a dominant 50-10 win over Italy in Rome.
Sexton is currently going through graduated return-to-play protocols and while the signs are good so far, Easterby is confident Billy Burns and Ross Byrne can step in should he be unavailable.
“Billy and Ross have been with us for the last couple of weeks,” he told the IRFU. “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. Not necessarily getting the minutes with Johnny being skipper, but it certainly wasn’t a thought of ours (to call anyone up).
“Partly due to the fact that we believe Johnny will get through those protocols and get back to playing, but also we’re confident and we’re backing those guys that are in the system already.”
Ireland won back-to-back Championship titles in 2014 and 2015 despite tasting defeat along the way and Easterby expects an immediate response from the Men in Green on Sunday.
He added: “This group is really resilient and I don’t believe it’s that hard to do that [bounce back]. Disappointment will live with the lads for a good while, I’m sure.
“Like we know in sport, when you get an opportunity to turn things around and play quickly after a defeat, there’s no better thing to do. We’ve had a day of recovery, mental and physical.
“Chats around the group, the opportunity for players to air a few thoughts and for them to challenge themselves. As coaches, for us to reflect on the performance. Now it’s back to business.
“We have to hit the ground running and as much as there’s still a few sore bodies around, mentally the players are in a good place.
“They understand what it will take to get a result this weekend and also the need to do that, to stay alive in the competition.”