Ireland: Joe Schmidt to make captaincy call for Six Nations

Ulster team-mates Rory Best and Jared Payne in action for Ireland against Canada at the World Cup last September
Jared Payne says his Ulster team-mate Best is a "very good communicator"

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will reveal his Six Nations captain on Wednesday with Jamie Heaslip, Rory Best and Sean O'Brien the apparent candidates to succeed now-retired Paul O'Connell.

In O'Connell's absence, Heaslip, 32, performed the role in the World Cup quarter-final defeat by Argentina.

Heaslip and Best, 33, have skippered in previous Six Nations, while O'Brien led Ireland against Scotland last August.

Schmidt will also name his squad for the opener against Wales on 7 February.

Uncapped trio Stuart McCloskey, Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander are being tipped to be included in an extended squad for the Aviva Stadium contest.

Schmidt must make Henshaw call

Experienced props Mike Ross and Cian Healy are also expected to be named as they near a return to action after injury.

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Ulster players Jared Payne and Rory Best look ahead to the Six Nations

Meanwhile, Schmidt has to decide whether to include Robbie Henshaw as he prepares to make his Connacht comeback following over six weeks out because of a broken hand.

However, Schmidt's most important decision appears to be the captaincy call as he decides whether to retain Heaslip in the role he undertook as the injury-ravaged Irish slumped to a heavy defeat against the Pumas in October.

Speaking in early December, Best made it clear he was keen on succeeding the talismanic O'Connell but coach Schmidt has been tight-lipped on the subject in recent weeks.

Best's Ulster and Ireland team-mate Jared Payne said on Tuesday that he had "no idea" who Schmidt would plump for but made clear his admiration for the hooker's "leadership qualities".

"Rory's very good at communicating with the lads," added Payne. "He's well respected and when he gets out on the pitch, he does the business as well.

"When you've got a captain like that, it's pretty hard not to listen to him and not to follow him."

Jamie Heaslip and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt before the World Cup quarter-final defeat by Argentina in October
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt must decide whether to retain Jamie Heaslip as skipper for the Six Nations

Best's captaincy record has seen him lead Ireland to victory in three out of four games while Heaslip's record is six wins, five defeats and a draw.

In terms of the wider selection, powerful young Ulster centre McCloskey and emerging Leinster midfielder Ringrose look likely to earn their first call-ups alongside Munster's in-form, South African-born flanker Stander.

McCloskey's Ulster team-mate Luke Marshall could be in line for a recall after missing out on World Cup selection, with another Kingspan Stadium player Darren Cave possibly under pressure after being out of action over the last six weeks because of a shoulder injury.

Cave admitted on Tuesday that he wasn't "overly confident" about being named in the squad.

"I haven't been in the shop window [over the last six weeks]," he said.

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