Ireland have selected Paddy Jackson ahead of Ronan O’Gara at fly-half for Sunday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland at Murrayfield.
Uncapped Ulsterman Jackson has been chosen to replace Jonathan Sexton, who is nursing a hamstring injury, in one of the biggest calls of Declan Kidney’s five-year reign as head coach.
In another bold selection, Luke Marshall - a second Ulster three-quarter who will be making his Test debut - will start at inside centre after Gordon D’Arcy was struck down by a foot injury.
But it is the decision to play Jackson that is the biggest taking point given O’Gara’s status as Ireland’s most capped player with 127 appearances.
The Munster veteran, who turns 36 next month, was expected to be Kidney’s automatic choice to replace Sexton given he has served as back-up at fly-half since the 2011 World Cup.
But his form this season has been poor, with his substitute appearance in the 12-6 defeat by England and display against Llanelli over the weekend pointing to his decline and he has been retained on the bench.
“Paddy’s inclusion was a challenge given the stature of Ronan O’Gara, but I think Paddy deserves a go in this one,” Kidney said.
“It was a very difficult decision to leave Ronan out, it was right up there. But that’s a compliment to Paddy.
“There were always going to be five changes to the side that played against England. Luke was with us all through November and accomplished himself very well.”
Ireland team to face Scotland at Murrayfield, Edinburgh, on Sunday:
R Kearney (Leinster); C Gilroy (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); P Jackson (Ulster), C Murray (Munster); T Court (Ulster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), D Ryan (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), D Toner (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O’Gara (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster).