Heaslip to lead Irish charge

Jamie Heaslip has retained the Ireland captaincy for the Six Nations despite the return of Brian O’Driscoll.

Heaslip led the team in O’Driscoll’s injury-enforced absence last November. The British & Irish Lions No 8 will continue to skipper Ireland as coach Declan Kidney has decided to start building towards the 2015 World Cup.

‘To get the opportunity again, considering what an inspirational leader Brian is and the other players who could have been chosen to captain the team, is even more humbling,’ said Heaslip. ‘I know Brian as a team-mate and as a friend and I will be relying on his and the other players support as we head into the Championship.’

Kidney has instructed O’Driscoll to focus on his own game at outside centre. While it is unlikely that the 33-year-old star will feature in 2015, he will still have a role to play in the next two years.

‘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,’ O’Driscoll said.

‘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. 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.’

A 39-man training squad was announced on Thursday. The Irish begin their Six Nations campaign on 2 February against current champions Wales.

Ireland training squad:

Forwards – Michael Bent (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Tom Court (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Lewis Stevenson (Ulster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster)

Backs – Isaac Boss (Leinster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Paul Marshall (Ulster), Conor Murray (Munster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Dave McSharry (Connacht), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Ulster)