Johnny Sexton to start as Best returns for crucial clash against France
Johnny Sexton is set to return to the Ireland team for Saturday’s Six Nations meeting with France if he comes through training at Carton House tomorrow morning.
The out-half missed the opening two rounds with a calf injury, but having trained on Tuesday he is expected to be named to start with Paddy Jackson dropping to the bench when Joe Schmidt shows his hand tomorrow lunch-time.
Sexton's return will be a major boost to the coach who is picking from as close to a full deck as he has for some time.
The out-half's season has been disrupted by hamstring and calf problems and he has played precious little rugby since damaging both his hamstrings in the autumn.
Last month on his return he suffered a calf injury while playing against Castres for Leinster, but if he comes through today's session Schmidt is likely to reinstate him.
Otherwise, with Rory Best back after suffering a stomach bug Schmidt is expected to largely keep faith with the team who defeated Italy two weeks ago.
Best will return in place of Niall Scannell, while Rob Kearney is likely to keep his place if he proves fitness as Andrew Trimble replaces Craig Gilroy on the bench.
Peter O’Mahony is also likely to be named on the bench after Josh van der Flier was ruled out with a shoulder injury, while Iain Henderson will replace Ultan Dillane who was not named in the squad this week. Cian Healy and Jack McGrath will battle it out for the number one jersey.
Possible Ireland team to face France: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy/J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Reps: N Scannell, J McGrath, J Ryan, I Henderson, P O’Mahony, K Marmion, P Jackson, A Trimble.