Robbie Henshaw and Iain Henderson look set to be brought on to Ireland’s bench for their crunch Guinness Six Nations clash with France on Saturday with Andy Farrell preparing to name an unchanged starting XV for the first time in his tenure as coach.
The duo sat out the opening round win over Wales after missing training in the build-up, but it appears they’ve been able to come through this week and are healthy enough to replace Ryan Baird and James Hume in reserve.
Despite the return to fitness of two of his most important players, Farrell is expected to keep faith with the side that delivered in style against the Welsh with Tadhg Beirne continuing alongside James Ryan in the second-row and Bundee Aki partnering Garry Ringrose in the centre.
The coach may have been tempted to add Henderson’s heft to his tight-five, but he’ll be equally pleased to have the Ulster skipper’s ability off the bench as Ireland look to go toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful packs in the game.
This will be a huge test of Ireland’s much-vaunted front-row unit of Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong, while the back-row of Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan will also be put to the pin of their collar.
Behind them, Jamison Gibson-Park and Johnny Sexton will be hoping for quick ball to provide Mack Hansen, Andrew Conway and full-back Hugo Keenan with the supply they need.
France are expected to stick closely with the team that opened with a win over Italy.
Coach Fabien Galthié has rejoined the team after missing that victory due to a positive Covid-19 test and he has retained Racing 92 centre Virimi Vakatawa for the weekend.
However, it appears more likely that Yoram Moefana will replace the injured Jonathan Danty in France’s midfield.
Second-row Bernard le Roux was among 14 players released back to their clubs for Top 14 action, with Cameron Woki expected to continue as starting lock.
Ireland (possible v France): H Keenan; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, M Hansen; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; T Beirne, J Ryan; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: D Sheehan, C Healy, F Bealham, I Henderson, P O’Mahony, C Murray, J Carbery, R Henshaw.