Craig Gilroy included as Kidney goes with attacking flair against Wales
IRELAND will have a youthful and attacking look for their Six Nations opener against Wales on Saturday.
Declan Kidney has included relative newcomers Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo on the wings, while Rob Kearney plays at fullback for the first time since last summer and Brian O'Driscoll is unsurprisingly named at outside centre.
The half-backs are along expected lines in Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray while new captain Jamie Heaslip is joined in the backrow by Sean O’Brien, who last played for Ireland in June 2012, and Peter O’Mahony.
The front row also has a familiar look with Leinster props Cian Healy and Mike Ross flanking Rory Best.
Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy continue their second row partnership after impressive outings against South Africa and Argentina in June.
But it is the decision to back Gilroy and Zebo that will make the headlines.
"It was a tight call because there's so much competition. Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls have been playing well, so it's testament to the way Craig and Simon have been playing that they're selected," coach Declan Kidney said.
In total there are four changes in personnel to the side that thumped Argentina 46-24 in the climax to a mixed November, among them Chris Henry's demotion to the bench.
O'Brien was assured of a spot in the back row once he had returned to fitness, but Henry is unfortunate to have made way with Peter O'Mahony preferred at blindside.
"We felt that in terms of a mix in the back row this was the best combination, but there was certainly plenty to talk about following Chris' performances in the autumn," Kidney said.
Ireland, the bookmakers' third favourites to win the Six Nations, have lost their last three matches to Wales, including a 23-21 loss on the opening day of the championship last year.
But while the injury-hit Welsh enter the tournament as champions, they have endured seven successive defeats including a whitewash during a troubled autumn.
Full team: R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Ryan, M McCarthy; P O’Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (c).
Substitutes: D Kilcoyne, S Cronin, D Fitzpatrick, D O’Callaghan, C Henry, E Reddan, R ‘O’Gara, K Earls.