Ireland gamble on Sexton against France in 6N

Coach Joe Schmidt has taken a gamble in naming flyhalf Jonathan Sexton to play in his first game in 12 weeks when Ireland host France on Saturday at Lansdowne Road.

Twenty-nine-year-old Sexton has not played a game of rugby since Ireland beat Australia on the 22nd of November after he suffered a third bout of concussion in a year.

Sexton comes into the Ireland starting line up replacing Ian Keatley who played against Italy last week and is dropped entirely from the match day team.

Ireland have also been boosted by the return to fitness of veterans No8 Jamie Heaslip and flanker Sean O’Brien after they recovered from shoulder and knee injuries.

O’Brien was a late casualty last week against Italy and if he starts this week it will be his first Test since Ireland’s loss to world champions New Zealand in November 2013 and has played just 50 minutes of rugby since last September.

Rory Best – Ireland’s most capped hooker – is able to start after being taken off early in the second-half of the Italy game with concussion.

There is a recall to the bench for the experienced prop Cian Healy, who hasn’t played test rugby since Ireland clinched the Six Nations title, on icon Brian O’Driscoll’s final international, with victory over the French in Paris last March.

Ireland are bidding to win their ninth successive match against a France team who also started the Six Nations with victory, at home to Scotland, but who have won just three times away from home since coach Philippe Saint-Andre took over after the 2011 World Cup final.

However, the last three games between the two sides have been tight affairs, two draws before Ireland — who will be captained by legendary lock Paul O’Connell winning his 98th cap — prevailed 22-20 in Paris.

Ireland

Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony; Paul O’Connell (capt), Devin Toner; Mike Ross, Rory Best, Jack McGrath

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Felix Jones

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