Rory selected as Best man to lead Ireland


Rory Best has been named as Ireland's captain ahead of the Six Nations, while Munster skipper CJ Stander is among four uncapped players included in a 35-man squad for the first two rounds.

Joe Schmidt's selection for the tournament was announced on Wednesday, with South Africa-born flanker Stander joined by fellow new faces Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier and Stuart McCloskey.

Best takes over responsibility for leading the side in Ireland's first games since the Rugby World Cup and the retirement of Paul O'Connell, whose planned departure from the international game was brought forward by a serious knee injury.

Jamie Heaslip took the armband for Ireland's quarter-final loss to Argentina, in O'Connell's absence, but the number eight will now serve as vice-captain to Best.

Tommy Bowe, Peter O'Mahony, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Chris Henry and Iain Henderson are among the injury absentees for Schmidt, although Robbie Henshaw makes the cut despite breaking his hand at the end of November.

Ireland - the defending Six Nations champions - begin their campaign on February 7 with a home match against Wales, before travelling to France in round two.

"As always there were a number of tight decisions, especially with a number of players not being available to play in recent weeks," said head coach Schmidt.

"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."


Ireland squad for first two rounds of Six Nations:

Forwards: Rory Best (captain), Sean Cronin, James Cronin, Ultan Dillane, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Herring, Mike McCarthy, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Sean O'Brien, Tommy O'Donnell, Rhys Ruddock, Donnacha Ryan, CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier, Nathan White.

Backs: Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, David Kearney, Rob Kearney, Ian Madigan, Kieran Marmion, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Jared Payne, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo.