Ireland coach Declan Kidney has confirmed that No 8, Jamie Heaslip, will continue to captain Ireland in the Six Nations despite the return of center Brian O’Driscoll.
Kidney named an extended squad of 39, including six new caps, on Thursday for the opening game against Wales on 2 February plus a game beforehand by the B team Wolfhounds.
Heaslip led Ireland for the first time during the autumn home tests while O’Driscoll, the captain since 2004, was recovering from left ankle surgery which sidelined him for three months until two weeks ago.
O’Driscoll said he and Kidney talked over the decision, and he was disappointed to not be captain, but he fully backed Heaslip.
“The captaincy has been a big part of my career and life, 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,” O’Driscoll said.
“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.”
Kidney said Heaslip did a good job in the November matches.
“I felt that now was the correct time to do this,” he said. “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.
Heaslip said he was honored to stay skipper.
“To lead your country is the ultimate in any sport,” Heaslip said. “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.”
Another former captain, lock Paul O’Connell, was unlikely to feature in the tournament, as he was on an injury list including Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris.
Forwards: Michael Bent, Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip (Captain), 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, Fergus McFadden, Dave McSharry, Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo.