Ireland boss Andy Farrell said Caelan Doris’ leadership development during his reign has been “astonishing” after naming him captain for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy.
Leinster back-rower Doris made his Test debut in the first match of the Farrell era – a 19-12 win over Scotland in 2020 in which he was forced off within five minutes due to concussion.
The 25-year-old has been switched from number eight to openside flanker for the Azzurri’s visit to Dublin and will lead his country in place of the injured Peter O’Mahony.
Farrell, who has made six personnel changes to his starting XV following last week’s 38-17 demolition of France, has been considering Doris as a potential skipper since last year’s World Cup.
Asked what he has seen in the player, the head coach said: “A lot, obviously.
“To put him in that position is a massive privilege for me, as I’m sure it is for Caelan and his family, so let’s recognise that, first and foremost.
“He’s someone that has been on my mind certainly through the World Cup and how he has come on as a leader and how he has dealt with being an international, top-class player over the years.
“His story, as it were, from his first cap to where he is now, has been astonishing really, behind the scenes.
“We are excited to give him the reins and let’s see what he can do with it.”
O’Mahony and prop Tadhg Furlong have been ruled out due to calf injuries, while centre Bundee Aki has a knee issue and Garry Ringrose continues to nurse a shoulder problem.
Farrell is hopeful the absentees will return to training ahead of Ireland hosting Wales on February 24.
Scrum-half Craig Casey, centre Stuart McCloskey, prop Finlay Bealham, lock James Ryan and back-rowers Ryan Baird and Jack Conan come into the team, while Tadhg Beirne has a weekend off and Jamison Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier drop to the bench.
Doris will wear the number seven jersey for his country for the first time since claiming two tries in a 33-17 World Cup warm-up win over Italy in August, with Conan in the centre of the back row and Baird at blindside.
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“He is someone that is unbelievably professional, very diligent in his own preparation,” Farrell said of Doris, who will win his 38th cap.
“Therefore because he is so comfortable in his own skin, he is able to think outside the box as far as helping everyone else with the bigger picture stuff.
“We have seen that flourish massively over the last couple of years, but more so throughout the World Cup.
“He is a very calm, calculated type of individual that will have that reassurance on the rest of the group.”
Doris was selected as skipper ahead of recalled provincial team-mate Ryan.
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Ryan has captained Ireland in the past but has to be content with just a return to the second row alongside Joe McCarthy, who starred in Marseille.
“James Ryan’s chomping at the bit to show his worth and start, and big Joe is ready to compete again,” said Farrell.
“Then obviously Calvin Nash and Jack (Crowley) get another shot at it. Ryan Baird has been playing outstandingly well, he’s obviously been very good for us off the bench, to start the game is a different challenge for him.
“Craig Casey has been jumping out of his skin and playing well, and deserves a start.
“For me, it’s a hell of a pack and a good team at that, so it excites me being able to be in that position.”