Joe Schmidt has restored fit-again Johnny Sexton to the Ireland team to face France in Saturday's clash at the Aviva Stadium (KO 4.50pm) and insists he has no concerns over the 31-year-old's fitness levels.

Sexton has recovered from a calf injury and took full part in today's training session at Carton House and is one of three changes from the side that defeated Italy last time out, with captain Rory Best and Jack McGrath coming into the front row.

The Leinster out-half has been out of action for five weeks and will feature in his first international outing since the Autumn Series defeat to New Zealand last November.

"No, not really," he said when asked if he had concerns over Sexton's physical condition.

"We’re confident Johnny can and Johnny is confident too"

"He’s done a lot of conditioning. Fitness is never really an issue for Johnny. He trained well today, he trained well on Tuesday. He’s highly motivated to get into the game on Saturday.

"We know it’s going to be physical. Two years ago Johnny came back in against the French and played really well.

"He got some physical contact that day and hadn’t played for 12 weeks before it. And that’s part of what you base your decision-making on – what have they done in the past and can they replicate in the future. 

"We’re confident Johnny can and Johnny is confident too."

Paddy Jackson, who kicked nine from nine against Italy and was a try-scorer in the opening round defeat to Scotland, has to make do with a place on the bench and Schmidt said the Ulster man took the decision in a positive manner.

"He took it with a smile and said I’ll be ready when you need me off the bench," he said, with Ian Keatley dropping out of the match-day squad.

Schmidt has also reshuffled the replacements bench.

Best’s run of 51 consecutive Six Nations matches came to an end in Rome when he was ruled out with a stomach bug and the Ulster hooker replaces debutant Niall Scannell. The Munster man is on the bench with James Tracey missing out.

McGrath comes in to win his 39th cap after losing out to Cian Healy against Italy.

"It’s a luxury for us to have two guys who you can mix and match like that"

Schmidt started the 27-year-old against Scotland and said he is fortunate to have such quality to choose from in the loosehead position.

"It’s a little bit horses for courses. Keeping them both competitive and sharing the time. It’s a luxury for us to have two guys who you can mix and match like that."

There are further changes on the bench with hat-trick hero Craig Gilroy losing out to provincial team-mate Andrew Trimble who also came through training unscathed.

Fit again Peter O’Mahony replaces the injured Josh van der Flier, while Iain Henderson is selected ahead of Ultan Dillane who failed to make the squad earlier this week.

Ireland team to play France: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: N Scannell, C Healy, J Ryan, I Henderson, P O’Mahony, K Marmion, P Jackson, A Trimble.

France have made three changes in personnel for Saturday’s clash with Ireland, with Yoann Huget, Bernard Le Roux and Rabah Slimani all come into the starting XV.

France team to play Ireland: S Spedding; N Nakaitaci, R Lamerat, G Fickou, Y Huget; C Lopez, B Serin; C Baille, G Guirado (capt), R Slimani, S V Vahaamahina, Y Maestri , Bernard Le Roux, K Gourdon, L Picamoles.

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