Wood, Henderson return for Ireland

 

Keith Wood will lead Ireland out in the Stade de France on Saturday in a starting line-up which also features the return of fellow Lion Rob Henderson.

Wood and Henderson, who replace Shane Byrne and John Kelly, are the only changes to Eddie O’Sullivan’s side as the Irish bid for their third win in as many year’s over the French.

Simon Easterby, who was unable to play for Llanelli last weekend due to a neck problem, is the only injury doubt in the squad but is expected to be fit for Paris.

The flanker was able to train at Greystones this morning but O’Sullivan admitted he remains a concern.

"He has a bit of trouble with a trapped nerve in his neck but we hope he will be alright to play," said O’Sullivan.

"We are bringing Trevor Brennan along and if Easterby is forced out, it will just be a straight swap.

"It is unfortunate as we have already lost Eric Miller with concussion and A team blindside Alan Quinlan with a knee injury."

O’Sullivan was realistic about his side’s chances off an unprecedented hat-trick of victories over the French, describing the challenge as "formidable".

"I think France have got better as the championship has progressed," he explained. They play a very good brand of rugby and their defence has improved a lot. They are very hard to break down.

"They move the ball around the park very well and then there is the icing on the cake, their French flair.

"All-in-all it makes them a very formidable side.

Wood, meanwhile, has missed Ireland’s entire Six Nations campaign to date, first with a torn calf muscle and more recently with a back injury, but emerged unscathed from his comeback for Harlequins at the weekend, a match he marked with a try.

The inspirational hooker suffered no ill-effects and the back problem that kept him out of the Italy match a fortnight ago appears to have cleared up.

"Hopefully I'll last the full eighty minutes but you never know," Wood said after training today, "and I'll just have to go and do the best job I can.

"Laporte has done a fanstastic job there. He's really come down hard on ill discipline. They play a very good brand of rugby and have been very impressive this year."

Rob Henderson was also on the scoresheet at the weekend, a try for Young Munster helping them to a win over Lansdowne.

Henderson will partner Brian O’Driscoll in the centre with Shane Horgan moving to the wing, a positional switch that relegates John Kelly, a double try-scorer on his debut against Italy, to the bench.

Ronan O’Gara, who sat out training yesterday with bruised ribs, is named among the replacements.

Ireland: G Dempsey; S Horgan; B O'Driscoll; R Henderson; D Hickie; D Humphreys; D Stringer; P Clohessy; K Wood (capt); J Hayes; G Longwell; M O'Kelly; S Easterby; D Wallace; A Foley.

Replacements: J Kelly; R O'Gara; G Easterby; S Byrne; P Wallace; P O'Connell; K Gleeson.