Rory Best to lead Ireland into Six Nations

Rory Best will captain Ireland for the Six Nations with uncapped quartet CJ Stander, Stuart McCloskey, Ultan Dillane and Josh van der Flier the 35-man squad’s newcomers.

Ulster skipper Best takes Ireland’s captaincy from Paul O’Connell, who retired from Test rugby after the World Cup.

Munster’s European Champions Cup captain Stander is eyeing a back-row berth after completing residency qualification, while powerhouse Ulster centre McCloskey boosts boss Joe Schmidt’s midfield steel.

Props Cian Healy and Mike Ross and flanker Chris Henry will miss Ireland’s first two fixtures, against Wales and France, but head coach Schmidt hopes the trio will return for the tournament’s latter stages.

“As always there were a number of tight decisions, especially with a number of players not being available to play in recent weeks,” said Schmidt.

Congratulations to our captain @RoryBest2, who has just been named as the @IrishRugby captain for the #SixNations!

Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) January 20, 2016

“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.”

Healy’s knee problem and Ross’ hamstring complaint will prove a significant early-tournament blow as Ireland seek to retain the Six Nations crown for a third year in succession.

Ulster flanker Henry’s shoulder injury further opens the door for uncapped Munster star Stander to make his Ireland debut, with Peter O’Mahony still on the long road back from knee surgery.

Uncapped Connacht lock Ultan Dillane has edged out Munster’s Dave Foley for one of the second row berths, with Ulster’s Dan Tuohy still sidelined.

And Leinster flanker Van Der Flier has the opportunity to impress after winning the call-up as cover while Henry continues to work his way back from that shoulder problem.

A 1st @IrishRugby 6Nations call up for @CJStander

Well deserved! We’re behind you all the way! #SUAF

Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) January 20, 2016

Head coach Schmidt admitted Ireland had “resisted the temptation” to include bolters like Leinster’s highly-rated 20-year-old centre Garry Ringrose.

Ireland Under-20s graduate Ringrose is enjoying a fruitful full breakthrough campaign with Leinster, and was invited to Ireland’s training camp earlier this month.

Schmidt has now confirmed his intention not to add any extra burden to a youngster already likened to Brian O’Driscoll.

“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,” said Schmidt.

“With plenty of new personnel involved the championship is going to be incredibly challenging and the players selected will know they will need to be at their best to be competitive.”

Ireland squad:

Backs: Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Dave Kearney, Rob Kearney, Ian Madigan (all Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey (both Ulster), Conor Murray (Munster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton (both Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).

Forwards: Rory Best (capt, Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), James Cronin (Munster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht), Tadhg Furlong, Jamie Heaslip (both Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Mike McCarthy, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Sean O’Brien (all Leinster), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan, CJ Stander (both Munster), Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier (all Leinster), Nathan White (Connacht).

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