Monday 24 July 2017

Johnny Sexton returns as Joe Schmidt makes three changes to side for France clash

Johnny Sexton returns to Joe Schmidt's starting team
Johnny Sexton returns to Joe Schmidt's starting team

Ruaidhri O'Connor at Carton House

Johnny Sexton will make his long-awaited return to action for Ireland on Saturday having been passed fit to face France.

The Leinster out-half has been named at No 10 for the Round Three Six Nations clash as one of three changes to the team that beat Italy a fortnight ago.

Captain Rory Best and loosehead prop Jack McGrath are restored to the front-row in place of Niall Scannell and Cian Healy who drop to the bench, while fit-again Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson and Andrew Trimble are restored to the replacements bench for the pivotal clash.

Despite fears his bicep injury would rule him out, Rob Kearney has been named to start at full-back having come through this morning's training session at Carton House.

Similarly, Sexton trained fully today and on Tuesday and that was enough to displace Paddy Jackson who will wear the No 22 shirt.

The St Mary's man has played precious little rugby since coming off injured in the defeat to New Zealand in November, but Joe Schmidt is confident his star man can hit the ground running.

Keith Earls and Simon Zebo are on the wing, while Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw will again link up in the centre as Conor Murray and Sexton renew their partnership at half-back.

Tadhg Furlong joins Best and McGrath in the front-row, while Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner continue in the second-row with Henderson providing back-up and the dynamic back-row trio of CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip continue with O'Mahony providing back-up.

France have also made three changes to their team with prop Rabah Slimani, flanker Bernard Le Roux and wing Yoann Huget coming in for Uini Atonio, Loann Goujon and Virimi Vakatawa respectively.

Like last season, coach Guy Noves has kept his brilliant loosehead Eddie Ben Arous in reserve and Ireland replacement tighthead John Ryan will have a job on his hands to contain the Racing 92 power-house who wreaked havoc on Ireland's scrum last season.

Ireland team to face France: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Reps: N Scannell, C Healy, J Ryan, I Henderson, P O’Mahony, K Marmion, P Jackson, A Trimble.

France: S Spedding (Clermont Auvergne); N Nakaitaci (Clermont Auvergne), R Lamerat (Clermont Auvergne), G Fickou (Toulouse), Y Huget (Toulouse); C Lopez (Clermont Auvergne), B Serin (Bordeaux-Begles); C Baille (Toulouse), G Guirado (Toulon, capt), R Slimani (Stade Francais), S V Vahaamahina (Clermont Auvergne), Y Maestri (Toulouse), Bernard Le Roux (Racing 92), K Gourdon (La Rochelle), L Picamoles (Northampton). Reps: C Tolofua (Toulouse), U Antonio (La Rochelle), E Ben Arous (Racing 92), J Le Devedec (Brive), C Ollivon (Toulon), M Machenaud (Racing 92), H Chavancy (Racing 92), D Camara (Stade Francais).

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