Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll was among several senior players restored by Declan Kidney to the starting XV for Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Wales in Cardiff.
Also taking the field at the Millennium Stadium will be fullback Rob Kearney, openside flank Sean O’Brien and hooker Rory Best.
Together with star centre O’Driscoll, they form a quartet of experienced players who missed the whole of Ireland’s end-of-year international campaign in November through injury.
The 34-year-old O’Driscoll has been captain in 84 of his 120 Ireland Tests.
But for the first time, when fit, since replacing Keith Wood as Ireland skipper in 2004, O’Driscoll has been relieved of the captaincy by Kidney with leadership duties passing to No.8 Jamie Heaslip instead.
O’Driscoll will be alongside longtime Leinster and Ireland teammate Gordon D’Arcy in midfield, with Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray the halfback duo.
Meanwhile, Kearney is set to form what should be a dynamic back three with wings Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo, who both starred in November.
“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,” Kidney said on Tuesday.
In all there were four changes to the side that beat Argentina by the convincing margin of 46-24 last time out, with Chris Henry dropped to the bench as O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony returned to the loose trio.
“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’s performances in the autumn,” Kidney said.
Ireland have lost their last three matches against Wales, a run that includes a 2011 World Cup quarterfinal defeat in New Zealand and a 23-21 reverse on the opening day of last season’s Six Nations
But although Wales, due to name their side on Thursday, are the defending Grand Slam champions, they have lost their last seven Tests.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (captain), 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O’Gara, 23 Keith Earls.
Date: Saturday, February 2
Venue: Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 13.30 (13.30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Pascal Gauzere (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)