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Published: 16:34 | 20/1/16

Best to captain Ireland

Ulster hooker Rory Best will captain Ireland for the 2016 Six Nations, head coach Joe Schmidt has confirmed.

The 33-year-old replaces Paul O’Connell who retired from international rugby following last year's disappointing Rugby World Cup campaign in England.

Best has skippered Ireland four times in his 89-Test career so far, the first time during the 2009 summer tour of North America under Declan Kidney, and deputised for the injured O'Connell during the 2012 Six Nations.

Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey, Connacht lock Ultan Dillane and Munster captain CJ Stander are all included in a 35-man squad for Ireland's opening two Six Nations fixtures, but injured trio Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Chris Henry have been omitted.

Tommy Bowe, Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy are also ruled out through injury, but Robbie Henshaw returns after a hand injury.

Ireland host Wales on Sunday 7th February at the Aviva Stadium, then travel to Paris to take on France at the Stade de France in the second round of fixtures six days later.

"As always there were a number of tight decisions, especially with a number of players not being available to play in recent weeks," Schmidt said.

"Stalwarts such as Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Chris Henry are all likely to return to play over the coming weeks and they, along with some of the other players not included will potentially return to the squad post these first two matches.

"There are a few new faces but at the same time we have resisted the temptation to include some of the very promising youngsters, allowing them a bit more time to develop as well as the opportunity of further game time with their provinces."

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