By Tadhg Peavoy
Johnny Sexton, Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip have all been recalled to the Ireland team for their Six Nations clash against France this Saturday at Aviva Stadium.
Sexton has missed the last 12 weeks of action for his club having suffered four concussions in 2014, but slots straight back into the starting XV.
It’s believed the Racing Metro out-half has been able to take part in fitness sessions and ball work and has only been stood down from contact training over the last three months.
In addition to Sexton’s return, open-side flanker Sean O'Brien and No 8 Jamie Heaslip also return to the side. O’Brien has recovered from a tweaked hamstring and Heaslip has shrugged off a shoulder problem.
The returning trio all trained fully this week and are deemed match fit for the round two encounter.
Hooker Rory Best retains his place in the starting XV. The Ulster No 2 suffered a concussion against Italy in Rome and was replaced by Sean Cronin. However, he has recovered sufficiently to face Les Blues.
The rest of the XV remains unchanged from the team that faced the Azzurri. Leinster’s Rob Kearney lines out at full-back. Ulster’s Tommy Bowe fills the right wing slot, with Munster’s Simon Zebo on the other flank.
Ulster’s Jared Payne and Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw line out in midfield. Munster’s scrum-half Conor Murray is named inside Sexton at half-back.
In the pack, Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is the final member of the back row alongside O’Brien and Heaslip. Captain Paul O’Connell maintains his partnership with Devin Toner in the second row. And the front row remains Leinster’s Jack McGrath and Mike Ross propping beside Best.
On the bench, Leinster's Cian Healy is named as loosehead cover, with James Cronin dropping out of the 23. Likewise, Jordi Murphy drops to the bench as back-row cover, with Tommy O'Donnell and Robbie Diack missing out.
Hooker Sean Cronin, tighthead Marty Moore and lock Iain Henderson retain their slots on the bench.
Isaac Boss is again named as replacement scrum-half and Felix Jones gets the nod as back three cover. Ian Keatley drops out of the 23 as Ian Madigan is named as utility back cover, including out-half.
Ireland XV to face France: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell (captain), Devin Toner, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Jack McGrath.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Marty Moore, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Felix Jones.