Wallace takes centre stage for Ireland

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The Independent Online

Ireland have selected Paddy Wallace alongside Brian O'Driscoll in midfield for their RBS 6 Nations opener against France at Croke Park.

Wallace's sparkling form at inside-centre for Ulster this season sees him resume a partnership that was used during the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia.

Luke Fitzgerald, of Leinster, switches to the left wing to accommodate Wallace, -who also provides fly-half cover for Ronan O'Gara on Saturday.

In a further change to the threequarters, Rob Kearney reverts to full-back - fending off the challenge of the more experienced Geordan Murphy and Girvan Dempsey.

Declan Kidney, overseeing his first Six Nations as Ireland coach, has retained the same pack that bulldozed Argentina in the 17-3 victory in Dublin last autumn.

Any urge to switch David Wallace from openside to number eight has been resisted, with the in-form Munster back row retaining the number seven jersey.

In total there are three changes, two positional, to the starting line-up that thumped the Pumas last time out.

Two big names return to the bench, with Denis Leamy and Gordon D'Arcy back after lengthy injury lay-offs.

Shoulder surgery and then a knee problem have kept Munster back row Leamy out of the side since the summer tour.

D'Arcy, the Leinster centre, is back - having recovered from the broken arm sustained in last year's Six Nations opener against Italy.

Uncapped Ulster prop Tom Court provides front-row cover from the bench, with Murphy also named among the substitutes.

Ireland team to play France in the RBS 6 Nations at Croke Park on Saturday February 7, kick-off 5pm:

R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), P Wallace (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); M Horan (Munster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester).

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