Heaslip to lead Ireland against South Africa

Jamie Heaslip will lead Ireland in Saturday’s Guinness Series opener against South Africa at the Aviva Stadium (5.30pm).

The Leinster number eight has been named captain in the injury-enforced absence of Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best.

Ireland’s growing casualty list has forced coach Declan Kidney to name a new-look team, with Simon Zebo starting at full-back and Richardt Strauss featuring at hooker.

Strauss, born in South Africa but eligible for Ireland on residency grounds, makes his Test debut among an all-Leinster front row of Cian Healy and Mike Ross.

Mike McCarthy’s strong form for Connacht is rewarded by his inclusion at lock where a vacancy appeared following O’Connell’s withdrawal with a back problem yesterday.

An inexperienced back row sees Heaslip partner Chris Henry at openside and Peter O’Mahony at blindside.

Zebo makes his first start for Ireland after being capped on the summer tour to New Zealand while Keith Earls replaces O’Driscoll at outside centre.

Uncapped forwards David Kilcoyne, Michael Bent and Iain Henderson are included on the bench.

Apart from O’Connell, O’Driscoll and Best, Ireland are also missing Sean O’Brien, Stephen Ferris and Rob Kearney, leaving a massive void in experience and leadership.

All are Test Lions except O’Brien, Ferris and Best, a trio who are almost certain to be involved in Australia on next year’s tour if fit.

“When you lose players of their experience it’s always going to be a hurdle to overcome,” Kidney said.

“But that’s why we’ve been building a squad over the last couple of years anyway because we always knew this day would come.

“We always hoped it would be drip-fed rather than en bloc, but such is the way of things.

“We talked with Jamie about the captaincy over the past year and he’s shown good potential for the job with Leinster.

“Although he’d probably deny it, Jamie is the consummate professional. When he turns up for work he’s really zeroed in.

“That’s a good place to start – leading by example. He’s been part of this group for a few years now.

“There were other guys holding their hands up for the job but the time is right for Jamie.”

Ireland to play South Africa: S Zebo (Munster); T Bowe (Ulster), K Earls (Munster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Strauss (Leinster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), M McCarthy (Connacht), P O’Mahony (Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt).

Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), M Bent (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), I Henderson (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O’Gara (Munster), F McFadden (Leinster).

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