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Published: 12:56 | 11/2/16

Sexton cleared to start

Zebo and Earls both ruled out

Johnny Sexton has been cleared to start Ireland's starting XV for Saturday's RBS Six Nations tie against France.

Head coach Joe Schmidt was left sweating over the availability of several players following the bruising 16-16 draw with Wales last weekend, and unsurprisingly there are changes to the team that took to the pitch at the Aviva Stadium.

Sexton was left nursing a shoulder injury after the Wales game but he has been passed fit and will renew his partnership with Conor Murray in the half-back line.

Rob Kearney missed last weekend's game due to a hamstring injury and only returned to non-contact training on Tuesday. However, he returns to the starting XV, taking his place at the full-back.

Simon Zebo and Keith Earls will sit out the game due to slight concerns over their fitness, with Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney getting the nod on the wings, while Schmidt has kept faith with the midfield partnership of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw.

Sean O'Brien returns to the back row, taking over from Tommy O'Donnell, where he joins CJ Stander, who made his debut last week, and Jamie Heaslip.

It's as you were in the front row with Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Nathan White getting the nod, while Devin Toner once again locks down with Mike McCarthy in the second row.

"We were trying to clarify the fitness of Simon Zebo and Keith Earls. They got through training but we just felt they were not 100pc," said Schmidt, who delayed naming his team until after Thursday's training session.

"Normally we name the team before training, they would be fully fit and everyone would have absolute clarity on their roles. It's frustrating."

Ireland (XV v France): R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, N White, M McCarthy, D Toner, CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: R Strauss, J Cronin, T Furlong, D Ryan, T O’Donnell, E Reddan, I Madigan, F McFadden.

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