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Schmidt set to start O'Brien against France as Healy returns to Ireland bench

Key men Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip are also ready to be restored to the starting XV.

JOE SCHMIDT IS set to include Sean O’Brien in his starting team to face France in Saturday’s Six Nations clash at the Aviva Stadium, while Cian Healy is likely to be involved as a replacement.

Cian Healy Cian Healy is set to feature for Ireland for the first time since last year's Six Nations. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Brien was named in Schmidt’s XV for last weekend’s win over Italy, but a hamstring tweak during the warm-up at Stadio Olimpico saw the Tullow native ruled out.

Tommy O’Donnell started in O’Brien’s stead in Rome, but having watched the 27-year-old come through a training session at Carton House today, it appears Schmidt will restore O’Brien to the seven shirt.

Healy has not played since September, when he underwent surgery after ripping his hamstring from the bone at Leinster training. His rehabilitation has progressed well ever since, however, and he has comfortably hit all necessary fitness markers in recent weeks.

There is a slight element of risk in using Healy against the French, but Schmidt seems to be mindful of Ireland’s need for additional power and bench impact against les Bleus.

Meanwhile, out-half Johnny Sexton and number eight Jamie Heaslip are set to be restored to the starting team after recovering from concussion and shoulder issues respectively.

Schmidt’s XV appears unlikely be unchanged elsewhere, although the ongoing doubt over Rory Best’s recovery from a concussion sustained against Italy means Sean Cronin is on standby to jump into the number two shirt.

Jonathan Sexton Sexton will direct Ireland on his return at out-half. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Alongside Healy on the bench, Jordi Murphy is likely to provide back row cover after starting at number eight against Italy. Ian Madigan is set to play back-up to Sexton, with his versatility an advantage over Ian Keatley, while Isaac Boss looks like retaining his place in the match day 23.

Schmidt is scheduled to name his match day 23 on Thursday afternoon.

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Possible Ireland team to face France:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Tommy Bowe
13. Jared Payne
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best
3. Mike Ross
4. Devin Toner
5. Paul O’Connell
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. Sean Cronin
17. Cian Healy
18. Marty Moore
19. Iain Henderson
20. Jordi Murphy
21. Isaac Boss
22. Ian Madigan
23. Felix Jones

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Murray Kinsella

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