Keith Earls will celebrate the arrival of his first child with the starring role for Ireland in the Six Nations opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
The Limerick 24-year-old has been handed the nod as replacement for injured captain Brian O’Driscoll in the rematch with World Cup conquerors Wales.
Earls missed the team announcement on Wednesday afternoon as he was back in Limerick for the birth of his first child, daughter Ella-Maye.
Coach Declan Kidney said: “Keith trained really well last week and it was on that basis that we made the decision. He’s looking forward to it and obviously has played very well there for Munster.
“All players can adapt. He’s played a lot in the position and is comfortable there. Keith has been playing very strongly in the Heineken Cup.”
The Munster star gets the nod ahead of Leinster’s Fergus McFadden who must make do with a place on the Irish bench.
“I’ve spoken to Keith and he’s in good form,” said stand-in captain Paul O’Connell.
“I was lucky in that when we had our small fella I was injured at the time so I didn’t have to go through what he’s going through.
“It’s a great time and he’s in great form and is looking forward to joining up with the team. Having kids is great because it gives you a bit of perspective on life and rugby.
“We all take rugby very seriously and are a bit selfish at times, but it gives you perspective on how to treat games. Hopefully it will be a good thing for him.
“He’s a lot more experience than in the past so hopefully I won’t have to say a lot to him. He had a good World Cup and has been playing well for us. He was excellent against Northampton.
“Guys have to be trusted. We have to let him continue doing what he’s picked for.”
Coach Declan Kidney has again gone for the tried and trusted with Munster scrum-half Conor Murray partnering Jonathon Sexton at half-back and Andrew Trimble in on the wing.
“I respect everybody’s view. This team is everybody’s team, people talk about who should and who shouldn’t be playing,” said Kidney.
“We had a disappointing match on our last day out against Wales, but one bad game doesn’t make you a bad team. Wales played very well that day and if we play the same way on the Sunday then it will be the same result.”
Wales will wait on injury updates on out-half Rhys Priestland, flanker Dan Lydiate and centre Jamie Roberts before they name their team on Friday.
The Ireland team to play Wales is: Kearney; Bowe, Earls, D’Arcy, Trimble; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, O’Brien, Ferris, Heaslip. Replacements: Cronin, Court, Ryan, O’Mahony, Reddan, O’Gara, McFadden.
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