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Cullen to captain Ireland with 10 changes

Updated: September 22, 2011, 23:12


ROTORUA, New Zealand(AP) Lock Leo Cullen will captain Ireland in his Rugby World Cup debut, leading a side with 10 changes against Russia at Rotorua's International Stadium on Sunday.

Cullen made his Ireland debut in 2002 against New Zealand but was overlooked for the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.

"It's been a long time coming,'' he said. "I've sat back and watched plenty of these games over the years and to finally get the opportunity to play, it's pretty special. I can't wait for it.''

Three others in the team will also play their first World Cup match: hooker Sean Cronin, flanker Donnacha Ryan and winger Fergus McFadden.

Coach Declan Kidney elected on Friday to rest most of his senior players after the stunning 15-6 win over Australia last weekend, saving them for the chance to clinch a quarterfinal berth against Italy in Dunedin next week.

Among those stood down were regular captain Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Paul O'Connell and Tommy Bowe.

"There's a real buzz in the camp,'' Cullen said. "I think for the guys that are playing this week there's a massive responsibility to carry on that momentum we have.''

In a positional change, Keith Earls was moved from the wing to outside center to partner Paddy Wallace, who makes his first appearance in the cup. Ronan O'Gara and Isaac Boss are the halves.

The latest team means all but one of the 30-man squad will have played in the tournament, the exception being hooker Damien Varley, who replaced the injured Jerry Flannery.

Cullen will become the third Irishman to be skipper in his tournament debut after Donal Lenihan in 1987 and Dion O'Cuinneagain in 1999.

As the leader of Leinster, Cullen will lead out 11 of his provincial teammates in the match 22.

He and Ronan O'Gara are the only survivors from the only previous match with Russia nine years ago, a 35-3 win in Krasnoyarsk in a qualifier for the 2003 World Cup.

"I remember getting off the plane and we had three or four supporters there, and my old man was one of them,'' Cullen said. "He's back again for the trip this week.''

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Ireland: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Keith Earls, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Ronan O'Gara, Isaac Boss; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Donnacha Ryan, Leo Cullen (captain), Donncha O'Callaghan, Tony Buckley, Sean Cronin, Cian Healy. Reserves: Rory Best, Mike Ross, Denis Leamy, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Geordan Murphy.

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