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Joe Schmidt has named his starting XV to face France in their Pool D decider at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday.

Ulster’s Iain Henderson is the surprise omission from the starting line-up as he takes his place on the bench alongside Chris Henry. Jared Payne has been ruled out of the Rugby World Cup with a fractured foot after fighting to stay fit for Sunday’s clash, so Keith Earls maintains his position in the centre. Ulster’s starting contingent features Tommy Bowe on the wing and Rory Best in the front row.

Paul O’Connell captains the team from the second row alongside Devin Toner, with Jamie Heaslip in position at number 8, Sean O’Brien at openside flanker and Peter O’Mahoney on the blindside. Cian Healy is set to start his first game of the tournament and links with Mike Ross and Best in the front row.

The likely pairing of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton continue their partnership at scrum-half and out-half. Robbie Henshaw keeps his shirt at inside centre alongside Earls at outside, with the rest of the back-line featuring Rob Kearney at full-back, brother Dave on the left wing and Bowe taking his spot on the right.

The replacements for France include Richardt Strauss, Jack McGrath, Nathan White, Henderson, Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald.

Looking at Schmidt’s selection for Ireland’s toughest test of this year’s Rugby World Cup so far, there are no real surprises apart from one which involves an Ulsterman. The Irish coach has cited line-out reasons for Toner’s inclusion over Henderson in the starting second row partnership. However, it won’t be long before Hendo is introduced to the game given his star quality, both in attack and defence.

The news of Payne’s World Cup campaign ending is a sad blow for the Ulsterman, who if fit, would have been a definite starter in the centre. His partnership with Henshaw worked well and managed to solve Ireland’s midfield woes after the departure of Brian O’Driscoll. Many are now backing Ulster’s Andrew Trimble to act as Payne’s replacement in the squad, given Luke Fitzgerald and Darren Cave’s ability to fill Payne’s central position. Bowe’s inclusion in the starting line-up is credit to his current run of form on the wing, having impressed against Romania and Italy.

As always with the French, it will depend on which team turns up to the Millennium. Ireland’s performance against Italy last weekend was an ugly win and if they are to topple France they will have to improve across all areas. There have been talks this week about targeting Sexton’s channel through the likes of skipper Thierry Dusautoir and centre Mathieu Bastareaud. If Ireland’s back-line defence holds, Schmidt’s men should come through.

The FRU predicts: Although France hold a reputation for raising the bar for World Cup competition, Ireland are strong across all positions and should win if they start positively.

Rob Kearney 15 Scott Spedding
Tommy Bowe 14 Noa Nakaitaci
Keith Earls 13 Mathieu Bastareaud
Robbie Henshaw 12 Wesley Fofana
Dave Kearney 11 Brice Dulin
Johnny Sexton 10 Federic Michalak
Conor Murray 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde
Jamie Heaslip 8 Louis Picamoles
Sean O’Brien 7 Damien Chouly
Peter O’Mahony 6 Thierry Dusautoir
Paul O’Connell 5 Yoann Maestri
Devin Toner 4 Pascal Pape
Mike Ross 3 Rabah Slimani
Rory Best 2 Guilhem Guirado
Cian Healy 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Richardt Strauss 16 Benjamin Kayser
Jack McGrath 17 Vincent Debaty
Nathan White 18 Nicolas Mas
Iain Henderson 19 Alexandre Flanquart
Chris Henry 20 Bernard Le Roux
Eoin Reddan 21 Morgan Parra
Ian Madigan 22 Remi Tales
Luke Fitzgerald 23 Alexandre Dumoulin

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