Sexton return to boost Ireland ahead of France clash

Six Nations
AFP
by AFP

Standout fly-half Johnny Sexton will start his first match for Ireland since limping off against New Zealand last November in the Six Nations clash at home to France on Saturday.

The 31-year-old - whose last game was five weeks ago when he suffered a calf strain playing for Irish province Leinster against French club Castres -came in for Paddy Jackson in the team announced by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at the squad's training base on Thursday.
   
Jackson, who because of Sexton's unavailability has started five of Ireland's last seven Tests, drops to the bench. 
   
Sexton's return to the starting XV is one of three changes to the side that thrashed Italy 63-10 a fortnight ago.

Hooker Rory Best returns as captain after seeing his run of 51 successive Six Nations appearances ended by a stomach bug for the Italy game - whilst Schmidt has opted for prop Jack McGrath instead of veteran front-row Cian Healy.
   
The latter drops to the bench which also sees fit-again Iain Henderson -replacing Ultan Dillane - flanker Peter O'Mahony, who is recalled with Josh van der Flier injured, and wing Andrew Trimble coming in.
   
Trimble replaces his Ulster team-mate Craig Gilroy, who can count himself unfortunate after scoring a hat-trick of tries in the Italy match.
   
Sexton - whose last full 80 minute display came on October 1 - has shown before that lack of activity doesn't affect his performance in big matches.
   
In 2015 he returned from a three-month absence and slotted over five penalties in Ireland's 18-11 win against France in the Six Nations.
   
However, in the years since he has seemed increasingly fragile and in the corresponding match last year in Paris - the French edging the encounter 10-9 - was subject to some heavy hits early on which left Ireland angry at the lack of action by the referee.
Rory Best is set to return for Ireland against France. Photo: Getty Images.Outside Sexton this weekend will be the youthful but burgeoning centre partnership of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose which is already being compared to the successful Irish midfield alliance of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.    
   
Ireland and France go into Saturday's  match at Dublin's Lansdowne Road having both won one and lost one in their two matches so far in the tournament, although the Irish are a point better off than the French thanks to accruing two bonus points to their opponents' one.
   
The French, though, beat Ireland's conquerors Scotland last time out with a 22-16 victory in Paris. 
   
Ireland team to play France in a Six Nations international at Lansdowne Road on Sunday (3:50 AEDT kick-off).

TEAM

1 Jack McGrath

2 Rory Best (c)

3 Tadhg Furlong

4 Donnacha Ryan

5 Devin Toner

6 CJ Stander

7 Sean O'Brien

8 Jamie Heaslip

9 Conor Murray

10 Johnny Sexton

11 Simon Zebo

12 Robbie Henshaw

13 Garry Ringrose

14 Keith Earls 

15 Rob Kearney

Reserves:

16 Niall Scannell 

17 Cian Healy 

18 John Ryan 

19 Iain Henderson 

20 Peter O'Mahony 

21 Kieran Marmion 

22 Paddy Jackson 

23 Andrew Trimble

France coach Guy Novès has made three changes to his side for Saturday's Six Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin.
   
Rabah Slimani, Bernard Le Roux and Yoann Huget all start as Virimi Vakatawa, Loann Goujon and Unini Atonio drop out of the side that defeated Scotland 22-16 last time out.
   
Prop Slimani comes in at tight-head in place of Atonio, who drops to the bench, with flanker Le Roux and fullback Huget replacing injured pair Loann Goujon and Virimi Vakatawa. 
   
Toulouse's Huget has not featured since the first November Test against Samoa. 
   
"The logic was (to replace Vakatawa by) Yoann who is returning to form", after a serious knee injury during the opening game of the 2015 World Cup, Noves explained.
   
Vakatawa had been systemically selected since Noves took over as France coach but failed to fire against Scotland and was replaced early.
   
No fly-half has been named on the bench with scrum-half Baptiste Serin and fullback Scott Spedding ready to step in should Camille Lopez retire injured.
   
Racing 92's Le Roux returns after being hampered by injuries since the 2016 Six Nations, as Charles Ollivon drops to the bench, to support Louis Picamoles amd Kévin Gourdon.
   
Bernard Le Roux is one of three inclusions for France against Ireland. Photo: Getty Images.Stade Francais prop Slimani comes in as Atonio struggled during the first two matches of the tournament with France losing their opener 19-16 at champions England.
   
"Rabah was convincing each time he came on, the scrum is one of Ireland's strong points. It was logical to allow him to start, he is a very serious and very fit boy," Noves added.
   
Uncapped centre Henry Chavancy and wing Djibril Camara are both on the bench.
   
Both Ireland and France won one and lost one of their opening two Six Nations games and a victory is vital to stay in the hunt to win this season's championship.
   
France beat Scotland 22-16 in Paris last time out while Ireland thrashed Italy 63-10 in Rome.

TEAM

France team to take on Ireland in a Six Nations international at Lansdowne Road on Sunday (3:50 AEDT kick-off).

1  Scott Spedding 

2 Yoann Huget

3 Remi Lamerat

4 Gael Fickou

5 Noa Nakaitaci
 
6 Camille Lopez
 
7 Baptiste Serin
 
8 Kevin Gourdon
 
9 Louis Picamoles
 
10 Bernard Le Roux
 
11 Yoann Maestri
 
12 Sebastien Vahaamahina
 
13 Rabah Slimani

14 Guilhem Guirado (c)

15 Cyril Baille

Reserves:


16 Christopher Tolofua
 
17 Uini Atonio

18  Eddy Ben Arous

19  Julien Le Devedec 

20 Charles Ollivon

21 Maxime Machenaud
 
22 Henry Chavancy

23 Djibril Camara

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