Keenan and Connors handed Ireland debuts in Six Nations clash with Italy

Dublin (AFP) –


Hugo Keenan and Will Connors will make their Ireland debuts in the Six Nations match with Italy at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Keenan, 24, will start on the wing whilst Leinster team-mate Connors, who is the same age, gets the nod at flanker ahead of the more experienced Josh van der Flier.

"We do definitely think they (the two debutants) are ready," said Ireland coach Andy Farrell after naming his side on Wednesday.

"Will is champing at the bit he has been involved before (he was in squad for the Italy game originally) and has had seven months to think about it.

"Hugo is an exciting player and capable of adding variety."

New Zealand-born scrum-half Jamison Gibson Park is also likely to make his first appearance after being named on the bench.

Farrell, though, has stuck with the tried and tested half-back partnership of Conor Murray at scrum-half and captain Johnny Sexton at fly-half.

Ireland still entertain hopes of the title -- a bonus point win over Italy would put them a point ahead of England and France heading into the final round of matches.

The Irish take on France in Paris in their final match on Saturday week, with England away to Italy in Rome.

The Six Nations was brought to a halt in March when the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Ireland's game in Dublin will still be held behind closed doors due to pandemic health protocols.

Team (15-1)

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

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