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Highlights on Off The Ball

To say Andy Farrell is not happy with French reports about his captain's health is to put it mildly. 

The Ireland head coach kept his response short, but the message was abundantly clear - "It stunk".

Heading into this weekend's Six Nations clash with France, Dr. Jean-Francois Chermann claimed - and later retracted said claim - that Jonathan Sexton had suffered thirty career concussions.

The neurologist had been the man to recommend Sexton stand down for twelve weeks while at Racing 92 in 2014.

Sexton snapped back at his midweek press conference, saying, "For me, I just think it's totally inappropriate that a doctor that I've seen - many years ago now - felt it was appropriate to come out and talk to whoever it was and say those things.

"It's inaccurate, and highly inappropriate."

The 35-year old will miss Sunday's showdown with Les Bleus having failed to come through the return-to-play protocols after taking a knock to the head in Cardiff.

Farrell was asked about the doctor's claims after he confirmed Billy Burns as Sexton's stand-in at the Aviva.

"Honestly? I thought it stinked (sic) - I thought it stunk - on so many grounds," the head coach replied, "I suppose I'll leave it at that."

Farrell says he's spoken to Billy Burns about his wayward kick that ended last week's loss to Wales, but stipulated that the Ulster out-half hadn't been mollycoddled.

"[We had] plenty of conversations," Farrell said, "Like I do with the rest of the team.

"You always try and help them find the reasons why - the process that they've been through etc - and see how they're able to cope and park and move on.

"Come Tuesday, Billy's been absolutely fine. He's been leading as far as every fly-half should do within training and he's been training really well this week."

Farrell added, "He's strong, Billy, he's a proper footballer.

"He realised it is what it is, everyone makes mistakes. And at international rugby, he understands the extent of that.

"But he's a true professional. His team are right behind him, and he's trained outstanding this week."

The resilience of Rhys Ruddock has also been hailed, as the Leinster flanker returns to an Ireland starting XV for the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

"He's had a few ups and downs within his career regarding injuries, and long injuries at that," Farrell said.

"You say about it being his first Six Nations start, I suppose there's a reason for that because of the injuries that he's had along the way.

"The resilience is in the guy, and he personifies that regarding obviously not getting selected over the last year or two. And then playing really well for his province and earning the right to start this big game over the weekend."

Farrell learned of Conor Murray's withdrawal from the side just 15-minutes before the team was revealed to the waiting media.

Despite the last-minute nature of some of his enforced changes, the boss won't be tailoring his gameplan just because some big-hitters are missing.

"Guys keep rotating and keep swapping in," he said, "They all know their plan, so no we don't need to curb it at all.

"I suppose you curb a plan regarding what happens with the weather, but when we've got a squad that's been together - and that's why we pick a 36-man squad for these occasions - and the same plan will apply to this team."

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Andy Farrell Billy Burns France Ireland Jean-Francois Chermann Jonathan Sexton Six Nations

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