Ireland without Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray for crunch France clash

Ireland will be without vastly-experienced half-back duo Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray for Sunday’s must-win Guinness Six Nations game against France.

By Ed Elliott
Friday, 12th February 2021, 12:50 pm

Fly-half Sexton sustained a blow to the head in last week’s defeat to Wales and has failed to satisfy return-to-play protocols, while Murray has picked up a hamstring problem in training.

Ulster’s Billy Burns will deputise in the number 10 jersey, with Jamison Gibson-Park coming in at scrum-half.

Head coach Andy Farrell has made two other enforced changes, recalling back row Rhys Ruddock and lock Iain Henderson in place of the suspended Peter O’Mahony and injured vice-captain James Ryan.

Ireland's Conor Murray picked up a hamstring problem in training.

Ulster skipper Henderson will captain his country for the first time in the absence of both Sexton and Ryan on his first start since sustaining a knee injury during the Autumn Nations Cup.

Leinster player Ruddock has not featured for Ireland since coming off the bench in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand and was not involved in any of Farrell’s squads last year.

The 30-year-old’s inclusion comes due to flanker O’Mahony being handed a three-match ban following his costly 14th-minute dismissal in the damaging 21-16 defeat in Cardiff.

Like Sexton, Ryan was forced off with a head injury at the Principality Stadium and has also not recovered in time to face Les Bleus.

With Ireland requiring a win to maintain their title hopes, Farrell has otherwise opted for a settled team.

Cian Healy, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter will continue in the front row, with blindside flanker Ruddock joining CJ Stander and Josh Van Der Flier at the back of the pack.

Healy, making his 106th Test appearance, will overtake John Hayes as Ireland’s most capped prop.

Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose will be the starting centres, while full-back Hugo Keenan and wings Keith Earls and James Lowe complete the starting XV.

Uncapped Munster scrum-half Craig Casey is included on the bench, alongside Ed Byrne, Ultan Dillane, Ross Byrne, Ronan Kelleher, Tadgh Furlong, Will Connors and Jordan Larmour.

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