By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton was chosen as the team's new captain on Wednesday as coach Andy Farrell named his first squad since taking over from Joe Schmidt after last year's disappointing World Cup.
Sexton, a former world rugby player of the year who is his country's second highest ever points scorer, fills the vacancy left by Rory Best, who retired after a World Cup in which his side were humbled by hosts Japan and dumped out by holders New Zealand.
"It's a huge honour, the biggest honour of my career to be asked to do it and I'm really looking forward to the challenges that are coming up and hopefully we can have a successful Six Nations now," the Leinster number 10 said in a statement.
The 34-year-old British and Irish Lions player has been out for a few weeks with a knee injury but said on Wednesday that he was close to getting back to full training this week and hoped to be "fully ready to go next week and into the Six Nations."
Farrell, the former dual-code English international who was Schmidt's defence coach, named five uncapped players in his 35-man squad for next month's tournament.
The inclusion of the young Leinster forward trio of hooker Ronan Kelleher (21) and back rows Caelan Doris (21) and Max Deegan (23) reflected the province's blistering start to the season in which they have gone unbeaten in all competitions.
Ulster prop Tom O'Toole and flyhalf Billy Burns were also named in the squad and will be joined in training by four other development players Ulster's Robert Baloucoune and Leinster's Ryan Baird, Harry Byrne and Will Connors.
"The provinces are doing a great job in developing young talent and we feel there is an opportunity in the national set-up to support that work and get a better insight into some young players," Farrell said.
Rhys Ruddock, Niall Scannell, and Stuart McCloskey were among those who will consider themselves unlucky to miss out on an otherwise experienced squad. Ireland kick off their Six Nations campaign at home to Scotland on Feb. 1.
Forwards: Max Deegan, Caelan Doris, Ultan Dillane, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Heffernan, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath, Jack O'Donoghue, Peter O’Mahony, Tom O’Toole, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier
Backs: Will Addison, Bundee Aki, Billy Burns, Ross Byrne, Andrew Conway, John Cooney, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale
(Editing by Toby Davis)