Earls loses out as Kidney opts for youth out wide

Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy will join Rob Kearney in an exciting back three when Ireland run out at the Millennium Stadium to face Wales in their first Six Nations clash on Saturday (1.30pm).

Injury to Tommy Bowe ensured competition for the wing spots with Zebo, Gilroy, Keith Earls, Fergus McFadden and Andrew Trimble all vying for a starting place.

Zebo’s impressive form of late, including a hat-trick against Racing Metro, put him in pole position for one spot while Earls and Gilroy looked to be in a shootout for the remaining place with Declan Kidney opting for the Ulsterman in today’s team announcement.

Elsewhere in the backline, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll will partner each other in the centre for a world record 48th time at international level.

Jonathan Sexton, whose move to racing Metro has somewhat overshadowed the build up to Saturday’s game, is named at pivot alongside scrum-half Conor Murray.

Second rows Mike McCarthy and Donnacha Ryan will start a championship game together for the first time, with McCarthy making his first start in the tournament having featured as a replacement last season.

Sean O’Brien returns to the starting team after missing the November internationals in a back row that includes Peter O’Mahony and Jamie Heaslip, who will captain Ireland in the RBS 6 Nations Championship for the first time.

Ireland v. Wales:

15 - Rob Kearney

14 - Craig Gilroy

13 - Brian O'Driscoll

12 - Gordon D'Arcy

11 - Simon Zebo

10 - Jonathan Sexton

9 - Conor Murray

1 - Cian Healy

2 - Rory Best

3 - Mike Ross

4 - Mike McCarthy

5 - Donnacha Ryan

6 - Peter O'Mahony

7 - Sean O’Brien

8 - Jamie Heaslip (Capt)

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

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