Heaslip holds off O'Driscoll
Heaslip holds off O'DriscollSHARE
Jamie Heaslip has kept his place as Ireland captain in the Six Nations training squad, despite the return of former skipper Brian O'Driscoll.
Coach Declan Kidney named a 39-man squad that will be split in two for the Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff on February 2 and the second-tier Wolfhounds match against the England Saxons later this month.
Heaslip led his country during the year-end Tests in November, and with O'Driscoll only recently returning from injury Kidney wants to give the star centre on opportunity to focus on his own game.
"Jamie had done a really good job for the squad and management during November and I felt that now was the correct time to do this," explained Kidney.
"Brian has had very little rugby in the last number of months and I think he deserves the space and time to concentrate on getting himself back playing fully fit."
Heaslip said he was "incredibly honoured" to retain the captaincy and O'Driscoll pledged to give the Leinster forward his full support.
"The captaincy has been a big part of my career and life over the last number of years, and while I was naturally very disappointed not to be leading the team in the Six Nations, when I talked it through with Declan, I accepted the reasons behind the decision," said O'Driscoll.
"Jamie will do a fantastic job and along with the other senior players in the leadership group, I will be giving him all of the support that he needs."
With Ulster forward Stephen Ferris ruled out by injury, Sean O'Brien may move to blindside flank, while former captain Paul O'Connell is also out.
"There are quite a few players who have been out injured and could be lacking game time, so this will be the ideal chance for them and the newer members in the squad to challenge for places in the senior team," said Kidney.
"After the Wolfhounds game we will able to name a smaller squad, which will train together and prepare for the Wales game."
Ireland squad: Isaac Boss, Darren Cave, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Craig Gilroy, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Rob Kearney, Ian Madigan, Paul Marshall, Fergus McFadden, Dave McSharry, Conor Murray, Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo, Michael Bent, Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip (captain), Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, David Kilcoyne, Mike McCarthy, Sean O'Brien, Donncha O'Callaghan, Peter O'Mahony, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Lewis Stevenson, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner.