New Ireland captain Rory Best said on Wednesday he had "big shoes to fill" when he leads the back-to-back Six Nations champions out to start their title defence against Wales in Dublin on 7 February.

Best, who will win his 90th cap, takes over the captaincy from Paul O'Connell, who retired from international rugby after last year's World Cup, which was a disappointing one for Ireland. O'Connell was a talisman for Ireland, as were his predecessors Brian O'Driscoll and Keith Wood. At the World Cup, the men in green had high hopes of reaching at least the semi-finals for the first time, but again bowed out at the quarter-final stage after a crushing 43-20 defeat by Argentina.

Ireland will be without the injured trio of Iain Henderson, Tommy Bowe and Peter O'Mahony for the entire tournament, while Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Chris Henry could return from injury for the final three matches. There was better news about pivotal flyhalf Jonny Sexton, who has recovered from a head injury suffered while playing for Leinster at the weekend.

Best told a news conference in London on 27 January: "It's a big challenge. I think if (you) speak to Paul before - and he took over from Brian - it was a big challenge stepping into big shoes; Brian before that really taking over from 'Woody' (Keith Wood). Every time there's a bit of a change in captain, you're filling big shoes because they have been pivotal parts of Irish rugby."