Jamie Heaslip will captain Ireland during the upcoming Six Nations, with Declan Kidney naming six new caps in a 39-man squad.
Number eight Jamie Heaslip will captain Ireland during the upcoming Six Nations, with Declan Kidney naming six new caps in a 39-man squad.
Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan, Paul Marshall, Dave McSharry and Lewis Stevenson are the six new faces in the squad.
Doubts over Brian O'Driscoll's fitness mean that Heaslip has been awarded the captaincy, with O'Driscoll set to play for the Ireland Wolfhounds against the England Saxons next Friday.
Munster assistant coach Anthony Foley and Leinster's Greg Feek will be part of that coaching team for the Wolfhounds game and will continue to work with the Ireland squad throughout the tournament.
“Our priority is the Wales game, but there is an opportunity in the Wolfhounds match for some of the players as we head into the Six Nations,” said Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
“While the majority of our focus is on the preparations for the Wales game, the coaching staff felt it made sense to have time with the wider group of players and also to have two fully fit teams on the field ready to train after what is usually an attritional end to the group stages in Europe.”
“Jamie had done a really good job for the squad and management during November and I felt that now was the correct time to do this.
“Brian has had very little rugby in the last number of months and I think he deserves the space and time to concentrate on getting himself back playing fully fit.
“We need Brian the player just as much as we need Brian the captain and typical of the man and the selfless way he has contributed to Irish Rugby and the Ireland team, he has said that the captain and the team would have his full support.”
Heaslip took charge against South Africa in the absence of Brian O'Driscoll during last year's November Tests, with the latter stating his disappointment at not been handed back the captaincy armband.
“The captaincy has been a big part of my career and life over the last number of years, and while I was naturally very disappointed not to be leading the team in the Six Nations, when I talked it through with Declan I accepted the reasons behind the decision,” said O'Driscoll.
“I've always known that the Rugby World Cup in 2015 was most likely a bridge too far for me, so at some point a player, who will most likely be there for the tournament, needs to build that captaincy experience. Jamie will do a fantastic job and along with the other senior players in the leadership group, I will be giving him all of the support that he needs.”
“I was incredibly honoured when Declan asked me back in November to lead the team in Brian's absence,” added Heaslip.
“To lead your country is the ultimate in any sport.
“To get the opportunity again, considering what an inspirational leader Brian is and the other players who could have been chosen to captain the team, is even more humbling.
“I know Brian as a team-mate and as a friend and I will be relying on his and the other players support as we head into the Championship.”
Forwards: Michael Bent, Rory Best, Tom Court, Sean Cronin, Declan Fitzpatrick, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip (c), Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, David Kilcoyne, Mike McCarthy, Sean O'Brien, Donncha O'Callaghan, Peter O'Mahony, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Lewis Stevenson, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner
Backs: Isaac Boss, Darren Cave, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Craig Gilroy, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Rob Kearney, Ian Madigan, Paul Marshall, Dave McSharry, Conor Murray, Fergus McFadden, Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo
Not available due to injury:
Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris, Luke Marshall, John Muldoon, Paul O'Connell, Dan Tuohy