Ireland struggle with injuries as France ring changes

PARIS • Ireland take the defence of their Six Nations title to Paris today, struggling with a raft of injuries in the face of a France rugby team finding their feet under new coach Guy Noves.

Johnny Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney have all been passed fit and were named in Ireland's team, coach Joe Schmidt having overseen a bruising 16-all draw with Wales in the opening fixture.

Both flanker O'Brien and full-back Kearney missed last weekend's game in which Sexton picked up a shoulder knock.

O'Brien completes a back row containing CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip, with Tommy O'Donnell replacing Rhys Ruddock on the bench. Kearney's younger brother Dave comes in on the left wing instead of Keith Earls, who along with Munster flyer Simon Zebo misses the trip to Paris as the Irish chase a second successive victory in France for the first time since 1927.

Noves, whose side scrapped a 23-21 victory over Italy last weekend, has brought in winger Teddy Thomas for Hugo Bonneval in one of six changes. Aside from Racing 92's Thomas, Noves has also called up centre Maxime Mermoz and forwards Jefferson Poirot, Uini Atonio, Alexandre Flanquart and Yacouba Camara.

Two of the changes were forced upon Noves, with centre Gael Fickou (replaced by Mermoz) absent for personal reasons and a serious hamstring injury to No. 8 Louis Picamoles.

As for Schmidt, he admitted his latest team selection has proved "unsettling and frustrating", notably after Zebo failed a fitness test.

Sexton insists he is okay but must overcome worries about his future after a series of head injuries.

French brain specialist Jean-Francois Chermann has warned him to avoid repeat concussions or risk his career.

Sexton's high tackling style makes him vulnerable to head shocks.

"I'm okay now, I just got a bang on top of the head and it just compressed my neck a little bit," said the 30-year-old, who kicked 11 points against Wales. "I've turned around pretty quick. But I'm fit to go and really looking forward to it.

"France have got dangerous guys across the backline."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

FRANCE V IRELAND

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline 'Ireland struggle with injuries as France ring changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe