Sexton returns to Ireland team for France match

The Leinster star has not played in over a month

BY Daniel Kelly 13:43 Thursday 23 February 2017, 13:43 23 Feb 2017

Jonathan Sexton Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Jonathan Sexton has proven his fitness, to take his place at fly-half for Ireland's Six Nations game with France.

Sexton has not played for club or country in over a month since Leinster's 24-24 draw with Castres in the Champions Cup. The 31-year-old left the field with a calf injury, and has struggled in recent times with hamstring injuries.

This season, Sexton has only played nine times this season, with his last appearance in green coming against New Zealand in Dublin last November. The return of Sexton to the team, means that Paddy Jackson drops to the bench, with Ian Keatley missing out on the matchday squad.

Overall, head coach has made three changes to the team that had a record 63-10 win over Italy in Rome. Captain Rory Best also returns to the team after missing the game in Rome through illness. Niall Scannell, despite his impressive debut in Italy, moves back to the bench. Jack McGrath also returns after rotating places with Cian Healy against Italy.

Sexton is the only change to the backs, from the side that won in Italy. Rob Kearney remains at full back, despite his arm injury in the Stadio Olimpico. The Munster duo of Keith Earls and Simon Zebo remain on the wing, with Garry Ringrose and Rob Henshaw remaining in the centre. Conor Murray continues at scrum-half.

In the pack, Ireland's back-five stays the same as Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner continue in the second row. CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip remain in the back row. 

Along with the returning McGrath and Best, Tadhg Furlong keeps his place in the front row for his first Six Nations start in Dublin.

On the replacements bench, Peter O'Mahony and Andrew Trimble return from their injury absences. Both look set to make their first Six Nations appearances of the year. Despite his hat-trick against the Azzurri, there is no space in the 23 for Craig Gilroy.

On Thursday morning, France named their team, with three changes from the side that defeated Scotland in Paris.

Ireland team and replacements for face France:

(15-9): Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Rob Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray.

(1-8): Jack McGrath, Rory Best (capt), Tadhg Furlong, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner, CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements (16-23): Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Trimble.

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