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Six Nations | Connors and Keenan to start against Italy

Will Connors and Hugo Keenan will make their Ireland debuts against Italy in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The Leinster duo will both start Ireland's penultimate match of the tournament, with Connors coming into the back row and Keenan being named on the wing.

Connors, named at number six, joins Caelan Doris and CJ Stander in the back row.

Andrew Porter, Cian Healy and Rob Herring make up the front row, with Tadhg Beirne joining James Ryan in the second row.

Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki start in the centre, while Conor Murray and captain Johnny Sexton resume their familiar partnership at half-back.

Uncapped duo Ed Byrne and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park have also been named on the bench.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says Connors and Keenan are ready to go.

"Obviously, we've had a few days together to see how they fit into the new systems and the pressures of international rugby, being able to adapt, to new team-mates etc.

"Will has been involved with us before and he’s had seven months to think about that and he’s come back in pretty good form so we are very excited about seeing him.

"Hugo has had a great start after lockdown, he’s an exciting young player in a variety of ways and they are both ready to go."

Two five-point victories against Italy and France would see Ireland win the tournament, but Farrell says his team have to manage expectations.

"We are desperate to help lighten the mood but we can't put any more pressure on our shoulders," Farrell said.

"How we lighten the mood is to look after our own back yard and make sure that the performance is fitting for what people want to see."

Ireland: Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Hugo Keenan, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Will Connors, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Peter O'Mahony, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw


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