Six Nations 2015: Sexton, O'Brien and Heaslip back for Ireland

Jonathan Sexton during Ireland training on Thursday
Jonathan Sexton has not played since he suffered a concussion in Ireland's win over Australia on 22 November
RBS Six Nations: Ireland v France
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 14 February Kick-off: 17:00 GMT Coverage: Live on BBC TV, HD, Red Button, Radio 5 live, Radio Ulster FM, the BBC Sport website, mobile, the BBC Sport app and Connected TV.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has recalled Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip for Saturday's Six Nations game against France in Dublin.

Fly-half Sexton, 29, is back from a 12-week lay-off after suffering a concussion and replaces Ian Keatley.

Flanker O'Brien will play his first Ireland game in 16 months as he takes over from Tommy O'Donnell while number eight Heaslip replaces Jordi Murphy.

Hooker Rory Best will start after recovering from a concussion.

Schmidt usually demands all his players train the Tuesday before a Test in order to merit selection, but the Kiwi has made an exception for trusted player Best, who took a blow to the head in the 26-3 win over Italy last weekend.

Ireland's most-capped hooker will make his 80th Test appearance at the weekend after being forced off in the second half in Rome.

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton

Cian Healy is set to play his first rugby since September after being named among the replacements.

Prop Healy has been out since undergoing hamstring surgery in the autumn.

O'Donnell and Keatley drop out of the match-day squad with Ian Madigan and back-rower Murphy included in the replacements.

Ireland coach Schmidt expressed confidence about Sexton's readiness for Saturday's game.

The Racing Metro star hasn't played a match since sustaining a third concussion in 12 months in Ireland's win over Australia on 22 November.

His selection had been criticised by former France international Laurent Benezech, who told the Irish Times: "Ireland is in trouble as playing Sexton after what happened to him is a big mistake."

But the Irish Rugby Football Union described Benezech's remarks as "disappointing and inaccurate commentary" and said that Sexton could have played in their opening game against Italy.

The IRFU said in a statement: "Player welfare is the primary concern of the Ireland medical and management team.

"All of the medical experts directly involved in the management of Johnny Sexton are satisfied that he is fit to return to the field of play.

"Johnny was cleared to play on Thursday, February 5 by independent neurologists in France and Ireland, the FFR concussion review committee, the Racing Metro medical team, the Ireland medical team."

Schmidt also revealed that Best completed a full-contact session on Thursday and will be fully clear to play providing he suffers no further concussion symptoms.

"He's ticked all the boxes of the protocols of the return to play," added the Ireland coach.

Flanker O'Brien, who will celebrate his 28th birthday on Saturday, was scheduled to make his return to Ireland action in Rome but was ruled out after feeling his hamstring tighten in the pre-match warm-up.

Heaslip, 31, was not risked in Rome after being hampered in recent weeks by a shoulder issue.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, M Moore, I Henderson, J Murphy, I Boss, I Madigan, F Jones.

Six Nations 2014 highlights: France 20-22 Ireland

Top Stories