MUNSTER’S Keith Earls will fill Brian O’Driscoll’s famous No 13 shirt for Ireland against Wales on Sunday afternoon.
Ireland’s legendary skipper O’Driscoll is ruled out for the entire RBS 6 Nations campaign and Earls, who has more often played on the wing for Ireland, has been handed the responsibility of filling those talismanic shoes. He beat off the challenges of Fergus McFadden and Tommy Bowe to move into the outside-centre berth alongside Gordon D’Arcy.
Declan Kidney has made just two other changes from the starting XV that lost to Wales in the World Cup quarter-final – Andrew Trimble comes onto the wing to replace Earls and Jonathan Sexton wins the battle for the No 10 jersey ahead of Ronan O’Gara.
The pack is unchanged and the front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross will be looking to get the better of a Welsh scrum missing Lions Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees. Back-rowers Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip will also be looking to get across the gain-line having been closed down by Wales in Wellington last October.
IRELAND TEAM TO PLAY WALES AT AVIVA STADIUM ON SUNDAY 5 FEBRUARY, KICK-OFF 3pm
Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Fergus McFadden.