Fit again, Sexton returns to Ireland team to face France


Skills coach Richie Murphy this week insisted Sexton had no "divine right" to selection, but boss Joe Schmidt has still drafted the British and Irish Lions star straight back into his starting line-up.

"We're really hopeful that they are primed to contribute, because I think the French replacements are really strong as well".

Ireland backs Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney returned to training on Tuesday and are available for the Six Nations game against France in Dublin on Saturday.

"That's part of what you base your decision-making on: what have people done in the past?" Can they replicate that in the future? "So we are confident, I think Johnny is confident as well, and I think that's important".

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Sexton, who replaces Paddy Jackson at number 10, has not played since he aggravated the injury while playing for Leinster in the European Champions Cup on January 20.

Captain Rory Best and loosehead prop Jack McGrath are restored to the front-row in place of Niall Scannell and Cian Healy who drop to the bench, while fit-again Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson and Andrew Trimble are restored to the replacements bench for the pivotal clash.

The Leinster fly-half then suffered a nasty black eye amid a host of clashes with bullocking centre Mathieu Bastareaud when Ireland saw off France 18-11 in Dublin in the 2015 Six Nations.

Despite only playing two of Ireland's last nine matches and just three times for his province Leinster since October - failing to play more than 60 minutes on each occasion - the 31-year-old's experience will be vital, Schmidt said. Fitness is never really an issue for Johnny. He's highly motivated to get into the game on Saturday. Yoann Huget, Rabah Slimani and Bernard Le Roux all return. Sexton's return to the starting XV is one of three changes to the side that thrashed Italy 63-10 a fortnight ago.