Friday 22 September 2017

Ireland at full strength as Sean O'Brien, Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip named in starting XV

Michael Verney

Sean O'Brien, Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip have all been named in a strong Ireland side for their second round Six Nations clash against France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.

As reported in today's Irish Independent, coach Joe Schmidt names the Lions trio in a near full-strength Irish team for the crucial tie, the first time Ireland have had a near full deck to pick from since the last gasp defeat to New Zealand in 2013.

O'Brien was named to play in the 26-3 win over Italy last weekend but Tommy O'Donnell deputised at openside flanker after the Tullow Tank suffered a minor hamstring injury in the during the warm-up.

"Starting Sean is as much as a risk as starting anyone else. He is as fit as anyone and he's had lots of contact this week," Schmidt said.

The 27-year-old has only 51 minutes of competitive game time under his belt since a second shoulder reconstruction in October but is included.

Racing Metro fly-half Sexton has been sidelined for 12 weeks after suffering four concussions in the last year and replaces Ian Keatley, who misses out on a place in the 23, with the more versatile Ian Madigan among the replacements.

Jamie Heaslip comes in for Leinster compatriot Jordi Murphy at Number 8 after recovering from a shoulder knock while Rory Best has been passed fit after completing the Return to Play protocol after last weekend's concussion.

"Rory has ticked all the boxes with his protocols," Schmidt added.

Irish eyes will also be smiling with the return of the prop Cian Healy to the squad for the eagerly-awaited Valentine's Day clash as Ireland bid to beat France at the Aviva for the first time.

On the French threat, Schmidt said: "Their maul is troublesome and they are such a big, powerful unit, so that's going to be a big challenge for us.

"Bastaraeud is a very direct threat, it takes 2-3 players to take him down but there is no other way."

Peter O'Mahony said: "There's always a fear factor with France and I think they're much better than we saw last week. I don't think they showed their full hand."

Ireland team vs France: (15-9)  Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; (8-1) Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Paul O'Connell (captain), Devin Toner, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Jack McGrath.

Replacements: (16-23) Sean Cronin; Cian Healy, Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Felix Jones.

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