JOE Schmidt has named Rory Best as the new Ireland rugby captain upon confirming his squad for the Six Nations, which begins next month.
Ulster hooker Best has 89 caps for Ireland already and replaces Paul O’Connell, who captained his country for the last time during the nation’s win over France at last year’s World Cup.
Schmidt has also included four uncapped players for the Six Nations – one from each province – namely Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey, lock Ultan Dillane of Connacht, Munster’s back row CJ Stander and flanker Josh van der Flier of Leinster.
Schmidt said: “As always there were a number of tight decisions, especially with a number of players not being available to play in recent weeks.
“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’s first game of the tournament is against Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday, February 7.
IRELAND’S 2016 SIX NATIONS SQUAD
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.