FIVE Munster players have been named in the Ireland team to play Wales in Sunday’s 6 Nations opener in the Aviva Stadium – among them CJ Stander who will make his debut.
Conor Murray and Keith Earls start at scrum-half and on the wing respectively while Simon Zebo comes in at full-back in place of the injured Rob Kearney. Tommy O’Donnell starts at openside where he will link up with Stander and the experienced Jamie Heaslip in the back row.
Munster have two more players on the bench – James Cronin and Donnacha Ryan – while Limerick’s Sean Cronin is once again the back-up hooker. Eoin Reddan doesn’t make the match day 23 with Connacht’s Kieran Marmion instead selected as the replacement scrum-half.
This will be the first 6 Nations campaign for Ireland since Paul O’Connell retired from international duty and their first outing since the disappointing World Cup exit to Argentina last October.
Injury has forced Joe Schmidt’s hand somewhat with the absentees including Mike Ross, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney.
The team in full is: Simon Zebo; Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls; Jonny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Nathan White; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; CJ Stander, Tommy O’Donnell, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Sean Cronin, James Cronin, Tadgh Furlong, Donnacha Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan, Dave Kearney