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Ireland likely to field settled team for France with Sexton set to return

Joe Schmidt has had some tight selection calls to make this week.
Feb 22nd 2017, 8:22 PM 8,143 33

JOE SCHMIDT LOOKS likely to select a largely settled Ireland XV for the Six Nations visit of France to Dublin on Saturday [KO 4.50pm].

However, there will have been several tight calls this week for the Ireland head coach, with a number of players returning from injury and doubts surrounding others.

Jonathan Sexton Johnny has been back in full training this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Johnny Sexton is back in the mix after recovering from his calf issue and is now set to take over from Paddy Jackson at out-half, with the Leinster man’s experience and proven quality at Test level attractive for Schmidt.

Sexton and Jackson have been mixing in and out at 10 in Ireland’s first team runs at Carton House this week, though, and the Ulsterman has performed strongly at out-half in the opening two rounds of the championship.

There are still doubts over the fitness of fullback Rob Kearney, after he sustained a bicep tendon injury in the victory over Italy two weekends ago.

Simon Zebo has been training at fullback this week and is ready to slot into the 15 shirt if Kearney does not come through tomorrow’s session. A move to fullback for Zebo would likely see Keith Earls and the returning Andrew Trimble selected on the wings.

Should Kearney prove his fitness, it seems likely that Zebo and Earls will keep their places on the wings.

Conor Murray is thought to be ready to go at scrum-half again, while Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose should be given another chance to build their improving centre partnership.

The competition at loosehead has been fierce, with Jack McGrath and Cian Healy starting a game each so far in the Six Nations, but McGrath may get the nod this time around. That said, Healy’s power would be useful against a bulky French pack that will back itself to earn penalties at scrum time.

Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson and Quinn Roux have been jostling for the second row spot alongside Devin Toner again this week, although the Munster man helped steady the Irish pack against Italy.

CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip have been improving as a back row trio and it would make sense for Schmidt to give them another outing, while there are interesting options as bench cover in this department.

Peter O’Mahony’s lineout skills, leadership and experience make him the obvious choice as the back row replacement, although Dan Leavy has fine form on his side.

With Kieran Marmion and Jackson set to provide half-back cover, the number 23 shirt may be filled by Craig Gilroy. Andrew Conway and Tiernan O’Halloran are in contention too, with both providing fullback and wing cover, while Tommy Bowe has already been on the Ireland bench during this championship.

However, Kearney coming through training would likely mean Trimble making his comeback as a replacement. Joe Schmidt is set to name his team at 1.45pm tomorrow.

Possible Ireland team:

15. Rob Kearney/Simon Zebo
14. Keith Earls/Andrew Trimble
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo/Keith Earls
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Donnacha Ryan
5. Devin Toner
6. CJ Stander
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

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/Craig Gilroy

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