Earls left off Irish team

Limerick rugby star Keith Earls has been left out of the Ireland side to face Wales in Saturday’s big RBS Six Nations Championship opener at the Millennium Stadium. (1.30pm)

Limerick rugby star Keith Earls has been left out of the Ireland side to face Wales in Saturday’s big RBS Six Nations Championship opener at the Millennium Stadium. (1.30pm)

Earls had played at second centre in Ireland’s autumn international with Argentina in November, but the fit-again Brian O’Driscoll will fill the 13 shirt against the Welsh this weekend.

Earls’ hopes of gaining inclusion in the starting team on the wing were dispelled with the inclusion of Ulster’s Craig Gilroy, who starred in the win over the Pumas in November.

Twenty five-year-old Earls, who is listed among the replacements for the trip to Cardiff, has won 34 caps to date for Ireland. His Munster team-mate Simon Zebo moves from full-back to play on the left wing.

Ireland head coach Declan Kidney said: “It was a tight call because there’s so much competition. Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls have been playing well, so it’s testament to the way Craig and Simon (Zebo) have been playing that they’re selected.”

Second rows Mike McCarthy and Donnacha Ryan will start a championship game together for the first time, with McCarthy making his first start in the tournament having featured as a replacement last season.

Sean O’Brien returns to the starting team after missing the November internationals in a back row that includes Peter O’Mahony, who gets the nod to start ahead of Ulster’s Chris Henry, and Jamie Heaslip, who will captain Ireland in the RBS 6 Nations Championship for the first time.

Conor Murray is the only Limerick player in the starting team although there are four locals on the bench - Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Eoin Reddan and Earls.

IRELAND - Rob Kearney; Craig Gilroy, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Mike McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (Captain). Replacements: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Declan Fitzpatrick, Donncha O’Callaghan, Chris Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls.