Regular winger Keith Earls was picked to replace Brian O’Driscoll in the Ireland midfield for the Six Nations opener against Wales on Sunday at Lansdowne Road.
Captain and center O’Driscoll will miss the entire tournament while he rehabs from shoulder and neck surgery on a trapped nerve.
Earls was chosen on Wednesday ahead of Tommy Bowe, Fergus McFadden and Andrew Trimble at center because he’s played there recently for Munster, and impressed coach Declan Kidney.
“All players can adapt,” Kidney said. “He’s played a lot in the position and is comfortable there. Keith has been playing very strongly in the Heineken Cup.”
But while four of Earls’ 26 caps have been at center, none have been in a match as competitive as this week’s.
To Earls’ comfort, Ireland features only three changes, one positional, to the team which was dumped out of the World Cup quarterfinals by Wales 22-10 last October.
The pack with skipper Paul O’Connell was unchanged, while Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton were the preferred halves, and Trimble was on the left wing.
The only uncapped player was Munster backrower Peter O’Mahony in the reserves.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell (captain), Donncha O’Callaghan, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Fergus McFadden.