Ireland's Sexton returns for France clash

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:17
Large johnny sexton walks off 800

TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Standout flyhalf 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 - flank Peter O'Mahony, who is recalled with Josh van der Flier injured, and wing Andrew Trimble coming in.

Trimble replaces his Ulster teammate 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. 

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: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Christiaan Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Peter O'Mahony, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 22 Andrew Trimble.

Date: Saturday, February 25
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.50 (17.50 French time; 16.50 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Agence France-Presse

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Fri, 24 November 2017
Ulster v Treviso 19h05 Kingspan Stadium
Leinster v Dragons 19h35 RDS Stadium
Cardiff Blues v Connacht 19h35 Cardiff Arms Park
Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester 19h45 Kingston Park
Sat, 25 November 2017
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors 12h45 Welford Road
Bath v Harlequins 12h45 Recreation Ground
Italy v South Africa 13h00 Rome
Scotland v Australia 14h30 Edinburgh
England v Samoa 15h00 Twickenham
Wales v New Zealand 17h15 Cardiff
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints 17h30 AJ Bell Stadium
Ireland v Argentina 17h30 Aviva Stadium
France v Japan 19h00 Paris
Sun, 26 November 2017
Ospreys v Glasgow Warriors 13h00 Liberty Stadium
Kings v Scarlets 13h00 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Zebre v Munster 13h30 Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Saracens v Exeter Chiefs 15h00 Allianz Park
London Irish v Wasps 15h00 Madejski Stadium
Fri, 01 December 2017
Kings v Edinburgh 17h15 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
RESULT SCORE
Fri, 24 November 2017
Cheetahs v Edinburgh 33 | 13
Sun, 19 November 2017
Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins 31 | 17
Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks 35 | 27
London Irish v Bath 18 | 22
Sat, 18 November 2017
France v South Africa 17 | 18
Scotland v New Zealand 17 | 22
Ireland v Fiji 23 | 20
Wasps v Newcastle Falcons 40 | 10
England v Australia 30 | 6
Wales v Georgia 13 | 6
Italy v Argentina 15 | 31
Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints 30 | 15
Fri, 17 November 2017
Gloucester v Saracens 23 | 17
Tue, 14 November 2017
France XV v New Zealand 23 | 28
Sat, 11 November 2017
France v New Zealand 18 | 38
SIX NATIONS
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
England 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0
France 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0