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CARDIFF, Wales — Ireland recalled fit-again fullback Rob Kearney and chose Cian Healy over Jack McGrath at loosehead prop for the Pool D decider against France in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt made three changes in total for the match at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, including Devin Toner replacing Iain Henderson at lock.

The game has special significance, with the winner likely to avoid a quarterfinal against defending champion New Zealand in Cardiff the following weekend.

No. 8 Louis Picamoles and winger Noa Nakaitaci are back for France, which switched Damien Chouly from No. 8 to the openside flank.

Ireland and France each have 14 points from three straight wins.

“It’s an exceptional match to play in against a big rugby nation. There will be an enormous amount of intensity (but) it’s not a knockout,” France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said Friday. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, my players are desperate to play in this match. They’ve had it in mind for a very long time.”

With his strong kicking game and ability under the high ball, Kearney’s return from a buttock injury is a big gain for the Irish.

Centre Jared Payne was also absent from the scrappy 16-9 win over Italy last Sunday, with what Ireland described as a “bruised foot,” and he hasn’t recovered his fitness. Keith Earls kept his place alongside Robbie Henshaw in midfield.

Healy has only played 95 minutes since undergoing neck surgery and the resultant nerve damage to his right hand, but his big-game experience may have earned him the nod over the up-and-coming McGrath.

Picamoles, who will earn his 50th test cap, and Nakaitaci started the first two pool games but were rested by Saint-Andre for last Thursday’s match against Canada.

France’s lineup is close to the one that picked for the opening match — a 32-10 win against Italy — comprising 13 starters from that game to underline how Saint-Andre has finally found some consistency with his selection after years of fiddling.

However, Nakaitaci will play on the right wing, after playing on the left in the first two matches, and Saint-Andre persists with Brice Dulin on the left wing even though his favoured position is fullback.

South-Africa born Scott Spedding keeps his place at fullback after making some impressive runs against Canada.

Flanker Thierry Dusautoir will captain France for the 55th time, joining Australia’s World Cup-winning skipper John Eales in seventh place on the all-time list, while Nicolas Mas will equal Sylvain Marconnet’s France record of 84 caps for a prop if he comes off the bench.

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France: Scott Spedding, Noa Nakaitaci, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Brice Dulin, Frederic Michalak, Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Louis Picamoles, Damien Chouly, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado, Eddy Ben Arous. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Vincent Debaty, Nicolas Mas, Alexandre Flanquart, Bernard le Roux, Morgan Parra, Remi Tales, Alexandre Dumoulin.

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell (captain), Devin Toner, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Reserves: Richard Strauss, Jack McGrath, Nathan White, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald.

The Associated Press

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