Joe Schmidt: Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony will both be fit for France game

Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony will both be fit for France's visit to Dublin at the end of the month but Joe Schmidt's focus is on Rome this Saturday, writes Brendan O'Brien.

Both players missed last week's frustrating loss to Scotland in Edinburgh, Sexton with a calf problem and O'Mahony due to a medial ligament injury. Their availability for the back end of the tournament is an incalculable boost.

Schmidt has made two changes to the Ireland side for the next game, against the Azzurri at the Stadio Olimpico, with Cian Healy starting at loosehead in place of Jack MCGrath and Donnacha Ryan taking Iain Henderson's place in the second row.

Craig Gilroy replaces Tommy Bowe on the bench.

Henderson, who suffered a slight hamstring strain in training on Tuesday, slips out of the squad entirely although the Ireland coach was firm in his belief that the Ulsterman will also be fit in time for the French test.

Ireland will hope to leave the Scottish loss behind them with a win and yet Schmidt returned to the build-up to the opener in Murrayfield yet again at Thursday's team announcement and, in particular, to the delay in reaching the ground.

Fifteen minutes may not sound like much, but the Kiwi has clearly been put out by the unforeseen glitch to assiduously laid plans caused by the decision of the Scottish police detailed to escort the team taking a different route.

Roman traffic can be famously chaotic and yet the Ireland coach will not be having a word with the Italian carabinieri assigned to them prior to the journey between the team hotel and the stadium in the Italian capital.

"No, I think that was a one-off anomaly and we are more focused on what we can do performance-wise than some of those things that could potentially be distractions. It's good that we have to deal with those distractions sometimes because you will have those at times and you have to be able to cope with that and still perform."

The focus for now is on a win, he said. Nothing less, or more.

Talk of a possible bonus point has been quick to follow on from the defeat to the Scots but Schmidt sought to play down that arm of the pre-match debate ahead of the encounter with the regular Wooden Spooners.

"I don't feel that we are playing catch up entirely. One of the great things about this championship is that as long as we can keep getting better we can potentially stay in control of our own destiny.

"So we are not going to get too carried away and chase things that we don't immediately have to. We are focused on this immediate challenge and trying to do the best we can."


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