LionsWatch: Ireland v France preview

Ireland got their 2017 RBS 6 Nations campaign back on track in round two with a record win over Ireland and they welcome back Jonathan Sexton this weekend for the visit of France. [more]

LionsWatch: Ireland v France preview

Ireland got their 2017 RBS 6 Nations campaign back on track in round two with a record win over Ireland and they welcome back Jonathan Sexton this weekend for the visit of France.

Joe Schmidt’s side are on an unbeaten run of nine games at home in this Championship and if they can down Les Bleus on Saturday they are right back in the title hunt.

Their opening round loss to Scotland was undoubtedly a setback but the return of Sexton is a boost for both Ireland and potentially The British & Irish Lions.

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Warren Gatland will be taking note of how the fly-half – who started the three Tests for the Lions in 2013 – bares against a resurgent France side.
The inclusion of Sexton ahead of Paddy Jackson is undoubtedly the headline – the fly-half has shaken off a calf problem sustained on club duty with Leinster in January.

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His experience at No 10 will be vital in midfield alongside the younger duo of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose.


Sexton’s fellow Lion Rob Kearney is also fit to start and re-form the all-Lions back three with Simon Zebo and Keith Earls.

Up front skipper Rory Best has shaken off the illness that ruled him out in Rome to re-claim the No 2 jersey while Jack McGrath starts at loosehead in place of Cian Healy.

IRTV: @RoryBest2 on Captain's Run & #IREvFRA #TeamOfUs

— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 24, 2017

Onto the bench come the experience of Peter O’Mahony and Andrew Trimble while the versatile Iain Henderson also returns. 
While most eyes will be on Sexton as he hopes to hit the ground running for Ireland, LionsWatch will be paying close attention to his half-back partner Conor Murray.

Unplayable in the autumn at times, the scrum-half – a Test Lion in 2013 – will be hoping to replicate that form against Les Bleus on Saturday.

Elsewhere the back row includes both Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien while Best is back at hooker to lead his side.


On the bench Healy will add experience at loosehead while Earls, Zebo and Kearney are all Lions from the past two Tours.  
France's 10-9 victory over Ireland in Paris last year ended a five-game winless run against the men in green.

Ireland are vying to beat France in consecutive home matches for the first time in 14 years, having lost four of the seven subsequent meetings in Dublin.

France ended a run of four straight defeats in the Championship against Scotland last time out but have not won on their travels against a side other than Scotland or Italy since 2011.
Ireland skipper Rory Best on the recalled Jonathan Sexton.

“Even when he stepped back in, he looked fresh and hungry straight away.

“You never have to question his competitive nature, he'll always demand a lot of everyone else but he'll also demand more of himself, and you can see that in training.”
Defence coach Andy Farrell, who will also be defence coach on the Lions Tour later this year.

“We're happy with the progress in the second half and the Italy game,” he said.

“But tomorrow's a different kettle of fish, we've got to bring our A-game.”
Ireland: 15. Rob Kearney, 14. Keith Earls, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12. Garry Ringrose, 11. Simon Zebo, 10. Jonathan 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
France: 15. Scott Spedding, 14. Yoann Huget, 13. Remi Lamerat, 12. Gael Fickou, 11. Noa Nakaitaci, 10. Camille Lopez, 9. Baptiste Serin; 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Guilhem Guirado (captain), 3. Rabah Slimani, 4. Sebastien Vahaamahina, 5. Yoann Maestri, 6. Bernard Le Roux, 7. Kevin Gourdon, 8. Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: 16. Christopher Tolofua, 17. Uini Atonio, 18. Eddy Ben Arous, 19. Julien Le Devedec, 20. Charles Ollivon, 21. Maxime Machenaud, 22. Henry Chavancy, 23. Djibril Camara


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