Six Nations 2017: Johnny Sexton back in Ireland team to face France

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton is Ireland's third-highest points scorer of all time
Six Nations: Ireland v France
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 25 February Kick-off: 16:50 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Ulster & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary

Fit-again Johnny Sexton has been named in the Ireland team to face France in Saturday's Six Nations match in Dublin.

The Leinster fly-half, who has overcome a calf strain, is preferred to Paddy Jackson, who started the defeat by Scotland and the victory over Italy.

Captain Rory Best returns at hooker after missing the game in Rome through illness, while Jack McGrath comes in for Cian Healy at loose-head prop.

Rob Kearney is fit to play at full-back after recovering from a biceps problem.

Both Sexton and Kearney came through a full week of training at the squad's Carton House base in County Kildare unscathed.

Sexton, 31, has been out of action since sustaining his injury during Leinster's Champions Cup draw with Castres on 20 January.

Jackson deputised impressively for Sexton at Murrayfield and in Rome, but must settle for a place on the bench on this occasion.

Ireland in the 2017 Six Nations
Saturday, 4 February, Scotland 27-22 Ireland
Saturday, 11 February, Italy 10-63 Ireland
Saturday, 25 February, 16:50 GMT: Ireland v France
Friday, 10 March, 20:05 GMT: Wales v Ireland
Saturday, 18 March, 17:00 GMT: Ireland v England

"It was a call like any other, we debated it and we do believe we get a good balance with having both players available," said Schmidt of the selection call on starting Sexton ahead of Jackson.

"It's very hard to come into a side and come off the bench when you haven't played. So starting the match has allowed Johnny a bit more training time with the team this week.

"It's a balance, and I think on Saturday based on how things have gone in the past we'll probably see both players in some positions in some stage of the game.

"Johnny's done a lot of conditioning in the period of his injury, and fitness is never really an issue for Johnny, it's just making sure he's fully fit.

"And he is. He trained well today and fully on Tuesday. He's highly motivated to get into the game on Saturday."

Conor Murray has recovered from a hip issue to take his place in the starting line-up, with Munster's Niall Scannell dropping to the bench in light of the return of Best to the number two shirt.

With Josh van der Flier ruled out of the remainder of the Six Nations with a shoulder injury, flanker Peter O'Mahony is named among the replacements on his return after a hamstring complaint.

Coach Joe Schmidt has recalled McGrath in the front row in place of his Leinster provincial team-mate Healy, who started against the Italians.

Ulster winger Andrew Trimble and forward Iain Henderson comes onto the bench after their return to fitness.

Ireland: Kearney; Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Zebo; Sexton, Murray; McGrath, Best, Furlong; D Ryan, Toner; Stander, O'Brien, Heaslip.

Replacements: N Scannell, Healy, J Ryan, Henderson, O'Mahony, Marmion, Jackson, Trimble.

Six Nations table
PlayedWonDrawnLostForAgainstBonus PtsPoints
1. England2200403208
2. Ireland2101853726
3. Wales2101492815
4. France2101383515
5. Scotland2101434415
6. Italy2002179600

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