Jack Conan's standout season with Leinster has been rewarded with a place in Joe Schmidt's extended 46-man Ireland squad for the opening Six Nations games against Italy and France and the Wolfhounds fixture against the England Saxons.
The 22-year-old has excelled in a Leinster backrow in the absence of the injured Seán O'Brien and Kevin McLaughlin and also playing at number eight when Jamie Heaslip has been rested.
O’Brien and prop Cian Healy return to the squad after injury, with Healy in line to make his return in the game against the Saxons.
Conan is one of two uncapped players in the 46 named with Connacht tighthead Nathan White named despite not having played since suffering a ruptured tendon in an upper arm at a national squad training camp at Carton House ahead of the November internationals.
White is expected to return in Connacht's away trip to play La Rochelle in the European Challenge Cup on Saturday and the 31-year-old takes the place of his Connacht team-mate Rodney Ah You, who suffered badly at scrum time against Exeter last weekend in front of a watching Schmidt.
A number of injured players will remain with their provinces but have not been ruled out of the Six Nations just yet. The Munster trio of Robin Copeland, David Kilcoyne and Donnacha Ryan plus Ulster backs Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble will continue their recovery or gain playing time with their provinces for the time being.
Among the longer-term injured group are Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Dan Tuohy and Damien Varley, who are unavailable for selection.
Jonathan Sexton is named in the squad despite not being available for the opening game in Rome, although the Racing Metro outhalf is allowed take part in non-contact training.
“The coaching group have tried to strike a balance between some players getting the chance to fully complete their rehabilitation programmes, or get a bit of rest and others getting the opportunity to push their claims with further game time in the Wolfhounds fixture, said Schmidt.
Ireland’s opening fixture of the Six Nations is against Italy in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday February 7th. Philipe Saint Andre’s French side visit Dublin seven days later.
The Wolfhounds will face a strong England Saxons selection at Musgrave Park on Friday January 30th. They will be coached by Dan McFarland and Richie Murphy.
EXTENDED IRELAND AND WOLFHOUNDS SQUAD
Michael Bent (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Jack Conan (Leinster)*, Seán Cronin (Leinster), James Cronin (Munster), Robbie Diack (Ulster), Dave Foley (Munster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Seán O'Brien (Leinster), Paul O'Connell (Munster), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Dominic Ryan (Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Nathan White (Connacht)*.
Isaac Boss (Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Felix Jones (Munster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Keatley (Munster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Noel Reid (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Simon Zebo (Munster)
*Denotes uncapped player