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Sexton Returns For France Match

Sexton Returns For France Match

Head coach Joe Schmidt has named the team that will play France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 4.50pm) in Ireland’s first home game of the 2017 RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Rory Best returns to captain the team after being sidelined in Rome through illness, while Jonathan Sexton has overcome a calf injury to start at out-half for his first appearance of the 2017 tournament.

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Jack McGrath get the nod at loosehead prop in the third and final change, with the trio’s inclusion seeing Niall Scannell, Paddy Jackson and Cian Healy drop back to the bench.

The replacements are bolstered by Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony and Andrew Trimble who come into the matchday 23 after shaking off their respective injuries – hamstring, hamstring and groin.

Full-back Rob Kearney will win his 75th cap – only the 12th Irish player to hit such a landmark – and he will again have Keith Earls, the tournament’s joint top try scorer (3 tries), and Simon Zebo for company in the back-three.

Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw, the two youngest members of the squad at 22 and 23, continue their centre partnership and Sexton and Conor Murray are reunited at half-back for the first time since last November’s home clash with New Zealand.

The Best-led front row is supported by an unchanged second row of Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner who are both set for cap number 45 this weekend. CJ Stander, who also has three Championship tries like Earls, Sean O’Brien and vice-captain Jamie Heaslip will line out for their third successive Six Nations outing together in the back row.

Speaking ahead of Ireland’s first home match of 2017, Joe Schmidt said: “It’s great to be home. The first two (Six Nations games) were on the road so we’re really looking forward to getting back to the Aviva.

“I know the supporters are looking forward to it as well, there’s a lot looking for tickets and it’s going to be a raucous environment. So we trained this week with signals instead of calls because we believe the noise is going to be such that we won’t be able to hear. And that’s what we want – that kind of support lifts a team.”

Commenting on some of the selection calls, he added: “Johnny has done a lot of conditioning. Fitness is never really an issue for Johnny. He trained well today, he trained well on Tuesday. He’s highly motivated to get into the game on Saturday.

“We know it’s going to be physical. Two years ago Johnny came back in against the French and played really well. He got some physical contact that day and hadn’t played for 12 weeks before it. And that’s part of what you base your decision-making on – what have they done in the past and can they replicate in the future. We’re confident Johnny can and Johnny is confident too.

“Paddy took it with a smile and said, ‘I’ll be ready when you need me off the bench’. Based on how things have gone in the past, we’ll probably see both players in some positions at some stage in the game.

“It’s a little bit horses for courses (with Jack and Cian). Keeping them both competitive and sharing the time. It’s a luxury for us to have two guys who you can mix and match like that (at loosehead).”

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v France, 2017 RBS 6 Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, February 25, kick-off 4.50pm):

Player/Club/Province/Caps –
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 74
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 56
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 5
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 26
11. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) 30
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 63
9.  Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 55
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 38
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 101
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 13
4. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) 44
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 44
6. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 12
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 46
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (vice-capt) 93

16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 1
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 64
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 3
19. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 29
20. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 37
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 10
22. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) 21
23. Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster) 69