Six Nations: Will Connors and Hugo Keenan to make Ireland debuts vs Italy
Last Updated: 21/10/20 6:51pm
Leinster duo Will Connors and Hugo Keenan will make their Test debuts at openside flanker and left wing, respectively, when Ireland face Italy in their 2020 Six Nations clash on Saturday.
Connors had been earmarked to feature against Italy in the build-up to the original March 7 date for the game, but the coronavirus pandemic-enforced delay put the 24-year-old's chances of a Test debut against the Azzurri in doubt.
But now Ireland boss Andy Farrell has handed the in-form flanker his chance to impress, with the seasoned British and Irish Lions star Peter O'Mahony on the bench as cover.
Two further Leinster players, in uncapped prop Ed Byrne and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, are also in line for their Test debuts off the bench at the Aviva Stadium.
Keenan also steps in for his Test bow, in a back-three shorn of Keith Earls (back) and Jordan Larmour - who faces up to 16 weeks on the sidelines after dislocating his shoulder.
Ulster's Jacob Stockdale will shift from wing to full-back in the absence of Larmour, while Connacht and Leinster centres Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose have fought off the intense competition to forge Ireland's midfield duo.
In the half-backs, Munster's Conor Murray has kept his place at nine, while Leinster's Johnny Sexton is fit to captain the team from fly-half, with the 35-year-old having shaken off recent hamstring troubles.
Caelan Doris and the dependable CJ Stander complete a new-look back row alongside Connors, while Andrew Porter starts at tighthead and Tadhg Beirne at lock, with Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson and Ryan Baird all absent.
Leinster wing James Lowe has been training with Ireland but the 28-year-old does not qualify on residency until November.
Ireland: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Hugo Keenan, 10 Jonathan Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rob Herring, 3 Andrew Porter, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 James Ryan, 6 Caelan Doris, 7 Will Connors, 8 CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Peter O'Mahony, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.