O'Brien, Sexton and Kearney all named in Ireland team to play France
Jonathan Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney have all been deemed fit and are selected to start Ireland’s Six Nations clash with France, while Dave Kearney comes in on the wing in place of Keith Earls.
O’Brien is the one change from the pack that lined out for the draw with Wales, and completes a back row containing CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip, with Tommy O’Donnell dropping to the bench in favour of Rhys Ruddock.
Rob Kearney returns at full back while brother, Dave, is selected on the left, as Andrew Trimble maintains his place on the right. Fergus McFadden moves on to the bench after being brought into camp earlier in the week.
Sexton and Murray are the half-backs, with Robbie Hensahw and Jared Payne comprising the midfield. Richardt Strauss is favoured to Sean Cronin as replacement hooker.
Schmidt delayed selection until the 11th hour as Simon Zebo and Keith Earls were assessed following training, but neither man was deemed fit enough to travel to Paris. Though the duo are not expected to be long term absentees.
"We were trying to clarify the fitness of Simon Zebo and Keith Earls. They got through training but we just felt they were not 100pc," said Schmidt.
"Normally we name the team before training, they would be fully fit and everyone would have absolute clarity on their roles. It's frustrating."
Sexton admits he has no injury worries.
"I will be fine, I was to hold my shoulder up, I came off feeling like the forwards do," he said.
R Kearney (Leinster), A Trimble, J Payne (both Ulster), R Henshaw (Connacht), D Kearney, J Sexton (both Leinster), C Murray (Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), N White (Connacht), M McCarthy, D Toner (both Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), S O'Brien, J Heaslip (both Leinster).
Replacements: R Strauss (Leinster), J Cronin (Munster), T Furlong (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), T O'Donnell (Munster), E Reddan, I Madigan, F McFadden (all Leinster).