best foot forward

5 talking points after Schmidt names his Ireland team to face France

Return of the big names, Munster’s missing men, Boss as back-up and Sexton back to fitness.

JOE SCHMIDT THIS afternoon named his team and replacements to face France in Saturday’s Six Nations fixture in Dublin. Read the details on his selection here.

The big guns are back

Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien would improve most teams in the world, regardless of any doubts as to their match sharpness after injury problems. Having that trio back in the starting XV is an obvious gain for Joe Schmidt.

Rory Best and Sean O'Brien Best and O'Brien? They're both in. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Similarly, the return of Cian Healy to the Ireland bench would appear to be a major advantage, given the power he could bring to proceedings in the closing quarter against the French.

Yes, there are doubts involved but the Irish coaching staff have seen these players demonstrate their readiness in training, while the medical team would never send them into an international game with concerns for their safety.

The recovery of Rory Best from concussion means that Ireland are as close to full-strength as they possibly could have been in the circumstances.

Munster’s missing men

After they both started in Rome last weekend it seems rather unfortunate that neither Tommy O’Donnell or Ian Keatley features in the match day squad to play the French this time around.

Tommy O'Donnell scores their second try O'Donnell started in Rome last week, scoring a try. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The openside was particularly busy at Stadio Olimpico and Keatley, despite self-professed nerves early on, did well on his Six Nations debut. That said, their exclusion this weekend points to the strength of competition in Ireland’s squad.

Ian Madigan’s versatility in covering out-half, centre and fullback appears to have earned him the nod, while Schmidt has long been a fan of Jordi Murphy, with the Leinster back row having been excellent in Rome last weekend.

Henderson and Moore kept in reserve

There have been some calls for Iain Henderson and Marty Moore to be included in Ireland’s starting XV sooner rather than later, but the exciting front-five duo will have to continue to bide their time.

Iain Henderson Henderson is likely to make an impact off the bench. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Mike Ross delivered a strong performance in Rome to justify Schmidt’s ongoing faith in the veteran tighthead, while Henderson’s explosiveness seems to be best suited to the bench for now.

Devin Toner underlined his importance to Ireland last weekend in the second row, while Peter O’Mahony is the firm and deserved incumbent in the six shirt, meaning Henderson remains the impact substitute to wreak havoc late on against les Blues.

Boss powers on

Eoin Reddan returned to full training at Carton House this week, leading to suggestions that he would assume the back-up role to Conor Murray at scrum-half for Ireland’s first home fixture of 2015.

Isaac Boss Boss ended last weekend's game at scrum-half for Ireland. Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO / INPHO

However, Schmidt has again opted for continuity in retaining Boss on the bench, the 34-year-old having played the final 12 minutes at Stadio Olimpico.

Prior to that game, defence coach Les Kiss pointed to Boss’ experience and physical robustness as strong reasons for the Kiwi native being selected, and those same attributes apply for the clash with France.

Boss is probably the most like-for-like replacement Ireland have for Murray at present, and Schmidt seems to value nines who defend solidly and organise their forwards with ruthlessness.

Allez Johnny

The returns of O’Brien, Healy and Heaslip are all crucial, but Sexton’s involvement is perhaps the most noteworthy of all. The 29-year-old was sublime for Ireland throughout 2014 and it’s hard to argue against his status as Schmidt’s most important player.

Jonathan Sexton Sexton will be raring for action. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Sexton has, after an initial bedding-in period, also combined with Murray to form a hugely influential halfback pairing that matches up well to any other in world rugby. Keeping that pair fit and in form will ensure Ireland remain as successful as possible.

There may be some trepidation in the stands and from the player himself as Sexton smashes into his first collision on Saturday, with memories of last year’s knock-out incident with Mathieu Bastareaud still clear in the mind.

Sexton is nothing if not brave, however, and we must trust the medical experts on their decision that the out-half is good to go.

This article was updated at 14.41 on Thursday 12 February to correct Isaac Boss’ age from 24 to 34. Our apologies for the typo.

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