Ireland have named 43 Magners League players in their 44-man squad ahead of the RBS 6 Nations.
Head coach Declan Kidney has selected just one non-Magners League based player for the five Six Nations fixtures and two ‘A’ team matches during January, February and March.
The squad includes nine uncapped players in Ulster’s Declan Fitzpatrick, Chris Henry and Dan Touhy; John Fogarty, Fergus McFadden, Kevin McLaughlin and Devin Toner of Leinster; Johne Murphy from Leicester Tigers and Connacht’s Brett Wilkinson.
Ulster club captain Rory Best is named in the squad despite being sidelined through injury. The experienced hooker has now returned to contact training and could be back in Magners League action sooner than originally expected.
Ospreys wing Tommy Bowe, who recently signed a contract extension at the Liberty Stadium, is the only member of the squad to play his rugby within the Magners League but outside of Ireland, while Leicester’s Murphy is the only Guinness Premiership player in the party.
Ireland kick off the defence of their 2009 Grand Slam when they face Italy in Dublin on Saturday, February 6, while the Ireland ‘A’ side face England Saxons and Scotland ‘A’ on January 31 and February 5 respectively.
The squad will train together in Limerick next week before an ‘A’ squad is named on January 26 ahead of the away fixture against England Saxons at The Recreation Ground in Bath.
Additional players outside of the 44 man squad named will be added to the ‘A’ squad to face the Saxons.
“When naming the squad, we had three main considerations, with the most important being the opening game against Italy, followed by the A games and further down the line the Rugby World Cup,” said Kidney.
"Building a squad has always been a priority for us and the work done during the first half of the season means there is a little more experience accumulated in the squad then we had a couple of months ago.
“While there were new players who gained vital experience during the Guinness Series, the goal is to keep that experience ticking over with all the players who need international-level game time.
"By having the A games early, it allows us to get people on the pitch so they can keep their own performance levels up as we progress through to the later stages of the championship.
“The aim is now to continue that while trying to increase the competitiveness that we need for the Italy game. The provinces have all been in good form, making selection even more competitive, but we will need that for the big challenges that are ahead for the group over the next couple of weeks.”
Ireland Six Nations squad
Rory Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
Isaac Boss (Ballymena/Ulster)
Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)
Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster)
Tom Court (Malone/Ulster)
Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Leo Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster)
Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Ian Dowling (Shannon/Munster)
Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster)
Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster)
Declan Fitzpatrick (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)*
Jerry Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
John Fogarty (De La Salle Palmerston/Leinster)*
John Hayes (Bruff/Munster)
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster)
Chris Henry (Ballymena/Ulster)*
Marcus Horan (Shannon/Munster)
Shane Horgan (Boyne/Leinster)
Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Shane Jennings (St.Mary’s College/Leinster)
Robert Kearney (UCD/Leinster)
Fergus McFadden (UCD/Leinster)*
Kevin McLaughlin (UCD/Leinster)*
Johne Murphy (Leicester)*
Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster)
Mick O’Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster)
Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster)
Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster)
Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
Jonathan Sexton (St.Mary’s College/Leinster)
Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster)
Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)*
Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster)
Dan Touhy (Ballymena/Ulster)*
David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster)
Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster)
Brett Wilkinson (Galwegians/Connacht)*
*Denotes uncapped player