Ireland have welcomed a returning hoard of household names ahead of their Six Nations clash with France at the Aviva Stadium.
British and Irish Lions trio Jonny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien are all set to return to the starting line up, while Cian Healy has been named as a replacement.
Sexton reclaims the no.10 jersey, after completing a 12-week concussion lay off period, following four concussions in 12 months. Ian Keatley drops out of the squad but utility back Ian Madigan retains his place on the bench.
Heaslip replaces Jordi Murphy at eight after recovering from a shoulder injury and Sean O’Brien is set to make his first start for his country since November 2013, as he takes over from Tommy O’Donnell.
O’Brien was supposed to start against Italy last Saturday but he was replaced by O‘Donnell at the last minute, after sustaining a minor hamstring injury in the warm up at the Stadio Olimpico.
Healy could come off the bench to play his first match of competitive rugby since September. The Leinster prop has not played since undergoing hamstring surgery last autumn but has been deemed fit enough to feature.
Healy will be joined in the front row by Rory Best. The veteran hooker was forced off in the second half of their victory over Italy, after taking a heavy blow to the head. Joe Schmidt usually omits players who are unable to train on the Tuesday before a Test but he has made an exception for Best, who is now set to win his 80th cap.
Philippe Saint Andre has made just one-injury enforced change to the side that beat Scotland 15-8, ahead of their trip to Dublin.
Alexandre Menni was replaced by Eddy Ben Arous in the second half against Scotland, after picking up a foot injury. Menni has not recovered so Racing Metro’s Arous is set to make his first international.
Saint Andre has also called up Vincent Debaty to add some extra bulk to France’s colossal bench but there is still no place for veteran prop Nicolas Mas in the match-day squad.
When these sides last met, Ireland clung on to a two-point lead to claim their second win on French soil in 42 years and clinch the Six Nations title. This year they will be expecting another extremely tough tussle with Les Blues as both sides will be desperate improve on the unconvincing wins they claimed in their opening fixtures.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 17.00
PAST THREE MEETINGS…
France 20 Ireland 22, Six Nations, March 2014
Ireland 13 France 13, Six Nations, March 2013
France 17 Ireland 17, Six Nations, March 2012
Ireland won more rucks than any other side in last year’s Six Nations (520)
Ireland have scored more than 21 points in each of their last eight Test matches
France have not beaten Ireland since February 2011
Ireland to win: 1.4
France to win: 3.1
Ireland needed to win their final game of the 2014 Six Nations against France in Paris to claim the title. After a rousing first-half display, the Irish established a comfortable lead. But France came back strong and Ireland lead by just two points with a minute remaining, when Debaty passed the ball to Damien Chouly, who crossed over to score in corner. Les Blues celebrated but Steve Walsh referred the decision to the TMO, who correctly adjudged Debaty’s pass to have goneforward.
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