Brian O'Driscoll's decade of leading Ireland has ended
with Jamie Heaslip being named as skipper for this year's Six
Nations, drawing the national team's longest captaincy to a
No 8 Heaslip led Ireland in November in his Leinster
teammate's absence through injury and although O'Driscoll has
returned to the squad, coach Declan Kidney said the time was
right for a change.
O'Driscoll led Ireland on a record 83 occasions, more than
twice as many times as anyone else, but ahead of his 34th
birthday next week, the former British and Irish Lions
captain said he understood the reasons for the change.
"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, I accepted the
reasons behind the decision," O'Driscoll said in a statement.
"I've always known that the Rugby World Cup in 2015 was most
likely a bridge too far for me, so at some point a player,
who will most likely be there for the tournament, needs to
build that captaincy experience."
O'Driscoll captained Ireland for the first time in 2002,
three years after making his international debut, and led the
country to three triple crowns between 2004 and 2007, and
their first grand slam in 61 years in 2009.
He also captained the Lions in one test during a 2005 tour
wrecked by injury and holds the record of leading a test side
84 times, one more than South Africa's John Smit.
Kidney said he did not know what the country's record try
scorer's plans were beyond this year's Lions tour starting in
June, but added O'Driscoll did not need the extra
responsibility of being captain at this stage of his career.
"Obviously he'd be very disappointed, Brian has always told
you what an honour it is to captain Ireland and that will
never change," Kidney told a news conference, adding that it
was one of the most difficult decisions he has made as coach.
"I don't think people realise sometimes the amount of weight
that would be on a captain's shoulders and Brian's been
hugely generous to the team and I just feel that now is the
right time to allow him to concentrate on himself, to get
Alongside fit-again O'Driscoll, Kidney welcomed hooker Rory
Best and Heineken Cup winners Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney
and Sean O'Brien back into a 39-man squad that will be
trimmed ahead the opening Six Nations game in Wales on Feb.
Lock Paul O'Connell and winger Tommy Bowe have been ruled out
of the championship through injury, although Kidney said
there was an outside chance flanker Stephen Ferris could
return from an ankle injury to come back into contention.
Kidney, who included 19-year-old Connacht fullback Robbie
Henshaw among six uncapped players in the squad, escaped
losing flyhalf Ronan O'Gara for part of the campaign after he
received a one-week ban for kicking an opponent last weekend.
Kidney added that Irish rugby's governing body would do all
it can to try and keep first choice flyhalf Jonathan Sexton
at Leinster amid media reports linking him to a move to
France when his centralised contract runs out at the end of
Michael Bent, Rory Best, Isaac Boss, Darren Cave, Tom Court,
Sean Cronin, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald,
Declan Fitzpatrick, Craig Gilroy, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip
(captain), Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy
Jackson, Rob Kearney, David Kilcoyne, Ian Madigan, Paul
Marshall, Conor Murray, Mike McCarthy, Fergus McFadden, Dave
McSharry, Sean O'Brien, Donncha O'Callaghan, Brian
O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Peter O'Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Mike
Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Jonathan Sexton, Lewis Stevenson,
Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo