O'Driscoll's return adds heart to Ireland team

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The Independent Online

Ireland welcome back Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell for the Six Nations clash with Italy on Saturday, with the coach Eddie O'Sullivan admitting that their absence rips the heart from his team.

The duo missed the autumn series through injury but were restored to the starting line-up yesterday.

"It's good to have them back with a clean bill of health," O'Sullivan said. "They give us leadership and experience which is hard to replace."

The Munster hooker Jerry Flannery will make his full Ireland debut in the clash at Lansdowne Road. Flannery, who won his only cap as a substitute against Romania in November, has been given the nod ahead of Ulster's Rory Best, who has been named on the bench.

David Wallace's form for Munster in the Heineken Cup has earned him a recall at the expense of the Wasps openside Jonny O'Connor, who joins Best on the bench.

Wallace won the last of his 22 caps during the summer tour to Japan and packs down alongside Simon Easterby and Denis Leamy in the back row. Geordan Murphy overcame his Achilles injury to start at full-back, with Tommy Bowe preferred to Andrew Trimble on the left wing.

The Scotland head coach Frank Hadden has handed Mike Blair the scrum-half berth ahead of Chris Cusiter for their opening Six Nations game with France on Sunday. The Edinburgh Gunners No 9 is one of three changes to the team defeated by New Zealand in the autumn Test series.

Dougie Hall replaces Scott Lawson at hooker, while Alastair Kellock makes his Six Nations debut at lock in place of Craig Hamilton.

But Hadden admitted that the choice of scrum-half had been a difficult one. He said: "We are in a most fortunate position to have some real talent there and, as ever, it was a close call. Mike will start against France because he's in good form. He came on for Chris in the game against New Zealand and did well, so deserves a start."

Hadden insisted that the selection of the stand-off Dan Parks was an easier choice after his displays in November. "Dan compared most favourably to the three stand-offs he was up against in the autumn."

The Scotland captain Jason White will celebrate his 50th cap by leading the team for the first time in the Six Nations.

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