THE LATE WITHDRAWAL of Jonathan Sexton means Irish coach Declan Kidney is still unsure of starting Paddy Jackson or Ian Madigan against France.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney revealed that Sexton was ‘in the running’ up until 30 minutes before the official team announcement before he was ruled out.
Jackson has a tight hamstring but, if he responds well to treatment, should be named as starting outhalf. Kidney told TheScore.ie that he had made up his mind who will start but needs to personally talk to Madigan and Jackson first.
The other A.N Other on the bench will be fought out between Stephen Archer of Munster or Leinster’s Michael Bent. The gap has been fashioned following an injury to Ulster tighthead Declan Fitzpatrick.
Rob Kearney will be hoping to rediscover his attacking spark when he starts at fullback while the centre combination of Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Marshall gets its second outing.
Fergus McFadden comes in for the injured Craig Gilroy while Keith Earls starts on the left wing. Kidney insists McFadden will not be handed the kicking duties unless circumstances dictate during the course of the match. Conor Murray starts at scrumhalf.
The front row is restored to full-strength as the previously suspended Cian Healy once again takes his place alongside Rory Best and Mike Ross.
Mike McCarthy’s back has improved significantly to merit his recall and Donnacha Ryan has proved himself fit enough to start despite being troubled for several weeks with a shoulder injury.
The back-row of Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and captain Jamie Heaslip starts for the fourth game in succession.
Ireland take on France from 5pm on Saturday, 9 March at Lansdowne Road [Aviva Stadium]. The team’s last victory over the French came in the Grand Slam-winning campaign of 2009.
Ireland (v France): R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls; P Jackson/I Madigan, C Murray. C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, D Ryan; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (capt.)
Replacements: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, S Archer/M Bent, D O’Callaghan, I Henderson; E Reddan, P Jackson/I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.