Six Nations - Ireland make three changes for France clash

Charles McQuillan

Joe Schmidt has made three changes to his Ireland side for this weekend's RBS Six Nations clash with France in Paris.

Sean O'Brien, Rob Kearney and Dave Kearney all come in to the fold to face Les Bleus at the Stade de France, with Simon Zebo (knee) and Keith Earls (concussion) both out .

Head coach Schmidt was forced to delay his 12.30pm team announcement for around 15 minutes as he debated one final call before naming his side, in what has been an injury-troubled week for the Irish contingent.

Zebo was reportedly strapped heavily during training at Ireland's Carton House base on Thursday, but did not recover from a knee injury in time to start against Les Bleus at the Stade de France.

Earls misses out due to concussion while flanker O'Brien returns to the fold having been ruled out of last weekend's draw against Wales with a hamstring strain.

Schmidt said of Zebo and Earls: "They got through training but, at the same time, we felt they weren't quite 100% fit. Therefore it was a risk. There's nothing worse than replacing someone early in the game because they weren't fully fit.

"Simon Zebo was just a little bit sore and couldn't stretch out his knee fully. Keith Earls will probably complete the last step of his HIA (head injury assessment) tomorrow, but we have to name a team today.

"It's one of those things with a six-day turnaround, particularly when you're travelling.

"If we had another day at home we could hedge our bets a little bit, but we have to get on a plane at 3.15 this afternoon, and we've got to take the players that are available to play."

Tommy O'Donnell drops to the bench where he is joined by Richardt Strauss, Fergus McFadden and Eoin Reddan.

Sexton has recovered from a head knock and he starts at fly-half. "I'm okay now, I just got a bang on top of the head and it just compressed my neck a little bit," said Sexton. "But I'm fit to go and really looking forward to it.

"I'll be fine - I probably felt the way front-rowers feel every day, but as a soft out-half I just didn't hide it as well.

"We've only had one chance to see France under their new management, but some of the new individuals they've thrown in have impressed.

"They've got dangerous guys across the backline.

"I've played against Danty a few times when I was in Paris, and he's pretty similar to Mathieu Bastareaud in stature. He's got a lot of ball-playing abilities and speed to add to that too though.

"But we've prepared really well for it, we've tried to give them the respect they deserve. I don't think you can ever go to Paris confident. They are never beaten over there, it's a tough place to go.

"Just because we've had a little purple patch against them doesn't mean anything now."

Ireland (to face France): R Kearney, Trimble, Payne, Henshaw, D Kearney, Sexton, Murray; McGrath, Best (captain), White, Toner, McCarthy, Stander, O'Brien, Heaslip.

Replacements: Strauss, Cronin, Furlong, Ryan, O'Donnell, Reddan, Madigan, McFadden.