Dan Sheehan injury blow for Ireland ahead of crunch clash with France

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Ireland have suffered a major blow ahead of Saturday’s sold-out Guinness Six Nations showdown with France after losing influential hooker Dan Sheehan to a hamstring injury.

Rob Herring will deputise for Sheehan in the only change to the team which began last weekend’s 34-10 win in Wales, with the fit-again Ronan Kelleher added to the replacements.

Sheehan has been almost ever-present since coming off the bench to replace the injured Kelleher in last year’s 30-24 defeat to Les Bleus in Paris.

The 24-year-old was this week hailed as possibly the best hooker in world rugby by former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll and will be a significant absentee for the crunch clash in Dublin.

He has started nine of his country’s last 10 matches, including all three Tests in last summer’s victorious tour of New Zealand, with the exception being a substitute appearance against Fiji in the autumn.

In more positive news for head coach Andy Farrell, scrum-half Conor Murray, who emerged as a potential injury doubt on Wednesday evening, has been passed fit to continue his half-back partnership with skipper Johnny Sexton.

The availability of Murray is a major boost after Ireland lost first-choice number nine Jamison Gibson-Park to a hamstring issue ahead of kick-off in Cardiff.

Craig Casey will continue to provide scrum-half back-up from the bench ahead of fellow international rookie Caolin Blade.

Fly-half Sexton on Wednesday afternoon declared himself fit for the potential title decider, having undergone a head injury assessment and overcome a dead leg on the back of the trip to the Principality Stadium.

The 37-year-old will face France, where he played for Racing 92 between 2013 and 2015, for the first time in three years.

He watched last year’s loss at the Stade de France from the stands due to a hamstring injury, having failed to satisfy return-to-play protocols before the narrow 15-13 Aviva Stadium loss to Les Bleus in 2021.

Reigning Grand Slam champions France are the sole major nation yet to suffer defeat against Farrell’s Ireland and the only visiting side to win in Dublin since the 2019 World Cup.

Ireland hooker Rob Herring, pictured, will fill in for Dan Sheehan
Ireland hooker Rob Herring, pictured, will fill in for Dan Sheehan (Mike Egerton/PA)

Stuart McCloskey and Garry Ringrose continue their midfield partnership, while full-back Hugo Keenan and wings James Lowe and Mack Hansen once again make up the back three.

Casey and back-up hooker Kelleher, who has overcome a hamstring issue, are joined on the bench by Dave Kilcoyne, Tom O’Toole, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Ross Byrne and Bundee Aki.

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