Joe Schmidt: Paddy Jackson took being dropped "with a smile"

Johnny Sexton comes in in place of the Ulsterman

Ireland, Joe Schmidt

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Joe Schmidt had a tough selection choice this week, opting to start Jonathan Sexton over Paddy Jackson for Ireland's Six Nations clash with France this weekend.

Sexton, who missed the first two championship games through injury, comes straight into the first team at the expense of a Jackson who has coped incredibly well in his absence.

His inclusion had been anticipated, with Ireland's sternest challenge of the championship about to present itself in the shape of an enormous French side.

Having lost their first game to Scotland in Murrayfield, Schmidt knows he has to get his selection choices spot on if they want to be in the mix for the Six Nations crown by the time England visit Dublin in March.

"We debated it and we do feel we have a good balance by having the two players available," the Ireland head coach said at the squad announcement. "It's very hard to come into a side and come off the bench when you haven't played and I think it allowed Johnny a little bit more training time with the team this week. 

"That's opposed to Paddy who is already reasonably comfortable, so it's a balance and on Saturday, based on how things have gone in the past, we'll probably see both players in some positions at some stage in the game."

Regarding his Sexton's fitness, Schmidt said: "He's done a lot of conditioning during that period and fitness is never really an issue for Johnny. It's just making sure he's fully fit and he certainly is. He trained well today.

"As was expected he's highly motivated to get into the game on Saturday.

"He was frustrated missing those two [opening Six Nations games] and I think he is excited. He takes a fair bit of responsibility because obviously he's a leader within the team. His experience contributes some of that leadership and that's something that Paddy is starting to develop as well.

"It's great to have two guys coming through because inevitably you'll need different guys at different times."

Schmidt was also asked how Jackson, who might feel hard done by to lose his place in the team, took the decision to leave him out of the starting line-up.

"He took it with a smile and said 'I'll be ready when you need me off the bench'."