Confirmed: Rory Best new Ireland captain as four uncapped players called into Six Nations squad
Jamie Heaslip named as vice-captain
Joe Schmidt has named Rory Best as Paul O'Connell's successor as Ireland rugby captain and called up four uncapped players to his Six Nations squad.
Schmidt has rewarded the fine form of Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey, Munster captain CJ Stander and Connacht lock Ultan Dillane and Leinster's Josh van der Flier by naming the quartet in his 35-man squad, while resisting the temptation to include young Leinster centre Garry Ringrose.
The decision to award Best the skipper's armband will be welcomed both within and outside the camp, with the popular Ulster man the bookie's favourite to succeed O'Connell.
With 89 caps, the 33-year-old is the most experienced member of the squad as Schmidt aims for a third successive championship crown
The hooker has previously captain his country on four occasions and has assumed a senior leadership role within the squad over the past few years.
Jamie Heaslip, who captained his country during Declan Kidney's reign, has been chosen as vice-captain.
James Cronin, Marty Moore, Tommy O’Donnell, Kieron Marmion, Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble all return to the extended squad as injury has enforced the absence of Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave and Mike Ross.
Schmidt admitted injuries played a role in his selection, while Ulster's Robbie Diack and Munster lock Dave Foley will be among those disappointed to have missed out.
"As always there were a number of tight decisions, especially with a number of players not being available to play in recent weeks," he said.
"Stalwarts such as Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Chris Henry are all likely to return to play over the coming weeks and they, along with some of the other players not included will potentially return to the squad post these first two matches.
"There are a few new faces but at the same time we have resisted the temptation to include some of the very promising youngsters, allowing them a bit more time to develop as well as the opportunity of further game time with their provinces.
With plenty of new personnel involved the RBS 6 Nations is going to be incredibly challenging and the players selected will know they will need to be at their best to be competitive."
Wales named their squad yesterday with Scarlets scrumhalf Aled Davies the only uncapped player included as they prepare for their opening day assignment at the Aviva Stadium on February 7th.
Read more here:
- Luke Marshall backs 'freakish' Stuart McCloskey to make Six Nations impact
- Four uncapped prospects who could force themselves into Joe Schmidt's Six Nations plans
- Gatland begins mind games by labelling Ireland favourites
Ireland Squad RBS 6 Nations 2016
Backs: K Earls (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), R Henshaw (Connacht), P Jackson (Ulster), D Kearney, R Kearney, I Madigan (all Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), L Marshall, S McCloskey (both Ulster), C Murray (Munster), J Payne (Ulster), E Reddan, J Sexton (both Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster).
Forwards: R Best (capt, Ulster), S Cronin (Leinster), J Cronin (Munster), U Dillane (Connacht), T Furlong, J Heaslip (both Leinster), R Herring (Ulster), M McCarthy, J McGrath, M Moore, S O'Brien (all Leinster), T O'Donnell (Munster), R Ruddock (Leinster), D Ryan, CJ Stander (both Munster), R Strauss, D Toner, J van der Flier (all Leinster), N White (Connacht).