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Ulster’s Craig Gilroy and Munster’s Simon Zebo have been selected on the wings, with Zebo’s club mate Keith Earls having to settle for a place on the bench in perhaps the toughest call made by Kidney.
In-form Chris Henry is only among the replacements, with Sean O’Brien selected ahead of him alongside Peter O’Mahony and captain Jamie Heaslip in the back row.
With the likes of former captain Brian O’Driscoll, who will get his 121st cap against the reigning champions, and Gordon D’Arcy, who awaits his 72nd cap lining up alongside Gilroy and Zebo, Kidney is pleased with the make-up of his team while revealing he found it difficult to leave the likes of Earls out.
“It is a big call not having Keith in the starting XV,” he said. “It’s a really tough call but you can’t allow for everybody. If we had picked Keith we would be talking about one of the other lads left out.
“I have to say it is difficult to drop every player. With Keith, that was extremely difficult.
“I would have to say I have never come across an easy dropping yet, but the lads all stand up to it. It can be a tough job but this morning the players who didn’t make the cut probably trained better than the guys that did.
“Every player looks for an opportunity and that is what these players have now. The way they are training, they are going to go and grab it with both hands.
“We talked in November about the (younger) guys buzzing around the camp and that has continued. A couple of the more senior lads are now starting to feel their age with the younger lads around.
“In terms of the number of caps the players have it’s quite a mix of experience and youthful exuberance.”
Kidney revealed he considered starting Ulster flanker Henry, but O’Brien returns to the back row having missed the autumn internationals.
“In terms of a mix as a starting back row we felt Peter, Sean and Jamie would be good for us,” added Kidney. “But Chris’ performances did make it a tough call for us - as with a number of positions.”
15 Rob Kearney (Leinster)
14 Craig Gilroy (Ulster)
13 Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster)
12 Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)
11 Simon Zebo (Munster)
10 Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)
9 Conor Murray (Munster)
1 Cian Healy (Leinster)
2 Rory Best (Ulster)
3 Mike Ross (Leinster)
4 Mike McCarthy (Connacht)
5 Donnacha Ryan (Munster)
6 Peter O’Mahony (Munster)
7 Sean O’Brien (Leinster)
8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster) captain
16 Sean Cronin (Leinster)
17 David Kilcoyne (Munster)
18 Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster)
19 Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster)
20 Chris Henry (Ulster)
21 Eoin Reddan (Leinster)
22 Ronan O’Gara (Munster)
23 Keith Earls (Munster)