Dan Sheehan has been ruled out of Ireland’s second round Six Nations game against France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm) after becoming the fourth player in the squad to suffer a hamstring injury in training over the last fortnight.
Rob Herring comes into the starting side at hooker with Rónan Kelleher, who was ruled out of Ireland’s opening win against Wales in Cardiff last weekend with a hamstring injury, named on the bench.
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The 25-year-old Kelleher won the last of his 18 caps in the corresponding round two loss away to France exactly a year ago when forced off in the 25th minute with the shoulder injury which would rule him out of the remainder of the tournament and then last summer’s tour to New Zealand as well. He missed the Autumn Series with a hamstring injury.
Otherwise, Andy Farrell has named an unchanged starting XV and matchday squad, with Conor Murray and Finlay Bealham continuing at scrumhalf and tighthead in the absence of Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring) and Tadhg Furlong (calf).
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David Kilcoyne remains on the bench after coming in for the hamstrung Cian Healy on the morning of last Saturday’s 34-10 win over Wales. Stuart McCloskey starts at inside centre for the fifth Irish Test in a row this season, with Bundee Aki again named on the bench.
“Well, it’s pretty similar, which is a good thing, it means we’re healthy enough,” said Farrell of his selection.
“So, a bit of continuity in being together for 12 days before the first game and then a few sore bodies after the game, like always with the first game up in the Six Nations, but that bit of continuity gives us a nice balance to it to go forward this week.”
Sheehan’s loss, in addition to Furlong, denies the Irish pack of two of their ever-presents in the three Test series against the All Blacks and the wins over the Springboks and Wallabies. Indeed Sheehan has started nine of Ireland’s last 10 Tests, the only exception being when on the bench against Fiji, and in those 10 games has averaged over 65 minutes per game.
“It’s not nice for Dan. Obviously he’s a fantastic player at the top of his form. So anyone would miss a player in that type of form. But at the same time, I sound like a broken record, but it’s great in the sense that this is exactly what’s going to happen down the track in the World Cup. International rugby is only going to get bigger and better, so therefore it’s always going to be about the squad.
“When you get to the World Cup, you’ve a smaller squad. There’s a 12-day turnaround there as far as concussion is concerned, HIAs etc, so you’re always going to be numbers down and you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches as far as that’s concerned.
“We’re happy with how our squad is developing, pushing each other and competing against each other. Rob has always added to our performance, let’s put it that way and I also think he can do a good job in this type of game for us.”
Farrell’s sense of anticipation before this match-up between last year’s top two in the Six Nations and the two top-ranked sides in the world was palpable. He spoke at length about his admiration for this “fantastic” French team.
“I think their coaching staff, the backroom staff, the players alike have really got something going. French rugby in general is buzzing at this moment in time. I think we’ve all seen that. But, what’s very impressive about them is the temperament.
“They’ve got a plan A, B, C and D as well. Even when things have not been going their way, they’ve always found a way to win; certainly over the last 12 months. In that regard, any type of victory against a side like that is going to be a big performance.”
Farrell also expressed the belief that the home crowd will be equally fired up.
“Everyone is looking forward to this. I mean, we’ve had half a day off today, I’ve been walking around Sandymount there and everyone is pumped.
You know, I wish I was going to the game, and walking down to the game with my mates or my family or kids, because this is the type of game that everyone wants to be part of.
“Home advantage has to be a weapon for us. We’ve all got a responsibility for that.”
IRELAND (v France): Hugo Keenan (Leinster; Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Conor Murray (Munster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).
Replacements: Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Tom O’Toole (Ulster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Craig Casey (Munster), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht).
FRANCE: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Ethan Dumortier; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (capt); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio; Thibaud Flament, Paul Willemse; Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: Gaetan Barlot, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Sekou Macalou, Baptiste Couilloud, Matthieu Jalibert.