Gilroy and O'Mahony get the close calls
Rugby:Ireland coach Declan Kidney has made four changes, two of which are enforced, from the convincing win over Argentina in November for the opening Six Nations clash against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday (1.30pm).
Rob Kearney returns from injury at fullback, with Simon Zebo moving to the left wing and Craig Gilroy switching to the right flank, with both wingers making their Six Nations debuts.
Brian O’Driscoll also returns to the side at outside centre, with Keith Earls moving to the bench and Fergus McFadden missing out altogether.
Kidney said: “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.”
O’Driscoll resumes his centre partnership alongside Leinster team-mate Gordon D’Arcy for a record 48th time with Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray selected at halfback.
Rory Best is back at hooker in place of the injured Richardt Strauss, while Seán O’Brien comes in at openside flanker for Chris Henry. Peter O’Mahony retains the blindside position, with Henry dropping to the bench.
“We felt that in terms of a mix in the backrow this was the best combination, but there was certainly plenty to talk about following Chris’s performances in the autumn,” Kidney added.
Kidney has named Declan Fitzpatrick as back-up to Mike Ross on the bench, with Michael Bent’s performance in the Wolfhounds looking to have cost him a place in the matchday 23.
Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne is named as loosehead replacement, while Seán Cronin will cover the hooker spot.
IRELAND (v Wales, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Saturday, 1.30pm):Rob Kearney (Leinster); Craig Gilroy (UIster), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Simon Zebo (Munster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Seán O’Brien (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements:Seán Cronin (Leinster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Munster), Keith Earls (Munster).