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Six Nations France v Ireland: Schmidt hopes big guns are ready for Paris showdown

By Ruairi O’Connor

Joe Schmidt is hoping Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble come through this morning’s training session unscathed in order to be named in the Ireland team to face France on Saturday.

Sexton suffered a shoulder injury in the draw with Wales on Sunday and sat out training on Tuesday as a result.

He was joined on the sidelines by Trimble, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls as Kearney tested his hamstring injury away from the rest of the squad as he attempts to prove his fitness in time to start at the Stade de France.

Sean O’Brien is set to return to the starting XV after sitting out the Wales game with a hamstring injury and is expected to replace Tommy O’Donnell who departed with a head injury on Sunday. That would mean O’Brien linking up with CJ Stander, who made his debut last weekend, and Jamie Heaslip in the back-row.

Having overcome his post-game assessments, O’Donnell is vying with Rhys Ruddock for a place on the bench, while Donnacha Ryan may come into the second-row in place of Mike McCarthy in a bid to freshen things up after a bruising 80 minutes.

Up front, Schmidt looks set to place his faith in the front-row of Jack McGrath, skipper Rory Best and Nathan White despite the problems the Kiwi tighthead endured at scrum-time last weekend.

If he proves his fitness, Sexton is expected to partner Conor Murray at half-back, with Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw in the centre.

With Zebo struggling with a knee injury, Dave Kearney could come into the team on the left wing, with Trimble on the right and Rob Kearney at full-back, with Fergus McFadden potentially covering from the bench if Zebo can't overcome his injury.

One player who is certain to be among the replacements is Eoin Reddan after Kieran Marmion was released to Connacht for their match against Dragons having been an unused sub last weekend.

Schmidt will name his team after this afternoon's session at 12.30 before the squad fly to Paris ahead of Saturday's game.

France coach Guy Noves names his team at 10.0am and, having already lost Louis Picamoles, he will also be without Gael Fickou for personal reasons, with Maxime Mermoz tipped to take his place.

The former Toulouse supremo is contemplating switching Damien Chouly to No 8 in Picamole's absence, with uncapped La Rochelle back-row Kevin Gourdon and Loann Goujon also in contention.

Schmidt has admitted he is worried about the prospect of playing a physical French side in Paris, just six days after the tough stalemate against Wales.

Meanwhile, it appears that Munster may miss out on transfer target Johann Goosen who looks set to remain at Racing 92 beyond his current contract.

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