O'Driscoll will miss a RBS 6 Nations campaign for the first time ever following shoulder surgery, leaving Earls to partner Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy in the midfield.
Kidney's starting XV shows just two personnel changes from the team that lost to Wales 22-10 in the World Cup quarter-finals with Earls' move to the centres allowing Andrew Trimble to come in on the wing while Jonathan Sexton replaces Ronan O'Gara at fly-half.
That means the pack is identical to the eight that lost the physical battle to Wales' forwards in Wellington while Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and scrum-half Conor Murray, who will make his Six Nations debut, retain their places.
There are new faces on the bench - alongside O'Gara - with Munster flanker Peter O'Mahony poised to win his first cap and centre Fergus McFaddenwaiting in the wings.
Kidney's preference of Earls over McFadden, who has combined so impressively with D'Arcy for Heineken Cup champions Leinster, is the biggest talking point.
And despite Earls background as winger, Kidney has full faith the Munster man will deliver in the hallowed Irish No.13 shirt.
"Keith trained really well last week and it was on that basis that we made the decision," he said.
"He's looking forward to it and obviously has played very well there for Munster.
"All players can adapt. He's played a lot in the position and is comfortable there. Keith has been playing very strongly in the Heineken Cup."