Earls one of four Munster players selected for Six Nations opener

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Keith Earls and Joe Schmidt at a press conference ahead of Ireland's game against France. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

FOUR Munster players have been selected in Ireland’s starting XV that takes on France in their first NatWest 2018 6 Nations game in Paris on Saturday. Keith Earls, who missed the Autumn internationals due to a hamstring injury, returns to the side on the right-wing.

There are also starting places for Conor Murray at scrum-half, with Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander making up two thirds of the back-row.

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The other player involved in the match day squad of 23 is tight-head prop John Ryan who is named on the bench. Andrew Conway misses out due to injury.

Elsewhere, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale and James Ryan make their debut’s in the competition.

Commenting on the team selection, head coach Joe Schmidt said: “We felt James (Ryan) went really well recently against Montpelier who are a big side, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he delivers on Saturday.

“We want to be able to keep building in that position (of second row), it’s a position we probably don’t have huge depth in.

“We’ve got a few young guys pushing through that we’ve given opportunities to and James is obviously one of those.

“(Bundee and Jacob) are really excited too about getting the opportunity to play in the Six Nations. I don’t think there’s a better place to be than in between Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw if you’re making your debut in the Six Nations.

“And having Keith and Rob working with him in that back-three triangle, I think it’s a great position for Jacob to be in as well.

“That’s kinda part of the balance. A lot of people speak in terms of World Cups and sacrificing opportunity or risking results in the Six Nations – I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

“I think you can be working as hard as you can in the Six Nations and still that’s good preparation for whatever comes next year or beyond.”

He added: “I had a good chat with Jordan (Larmour), he was very close to making the replacements bench.

“It’s a really competitive area for us. The back-three, we’ve gone for a mix of youth and experience in Jacob, Keith and Rob, and I think that’s probably a pretty good balance for us.

“We also have the experience of Fergus McFadden who is also a pretty accomplished goal-kicker too.

“Andrew Conway is managing a knee that was a little bit inflamed, for a period of time. It looked like it was going to be okay.

“He’s probably going to be out for this week and next week as a result of that. It’s certainly nothing serious, we just need to let it settle down and he’ll springboard back into things.”

Ireland’s game at the Stade de France has a 4:45pm kick-off on Saturday and can be seen live on TV3. The full squad is as follows:

Starting XV: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander; Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, John Ryan, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Fergus McFadden.