Mack Hansen in line to make Ireland debut against Wales in settled line-up

Tadhg Beirne’s form looks set to be rewarded in the secondrow with other big call at centre

Mack Hansen could be in line for his Test debut in the one surprise call by Andy Farrell when the Irish team for Saturday’s 2022 Six Nations opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium is unveiled around lunchtime on Thursday.

The Australian-born 23-year-old, whose mother is Irish, has hit the ground running since his summer arrival at Connacht from the Brumbies, scoring six tries in nine outings. Farrell and Mike Catt like wingers who look for work and Hansen has revelled in the roaming commission he has been afforded at Connacht, when often used in their launch plays.

In the absence of James Lowe as well as Jacob Stockdale, there is no left-footed kicker among the squad’s back three players, and although all his game time to date with Connacht has been on the left wing, Hansen can also play at outhalf and fullback as well as kick goals, which could make him a valuable squad member.

Otherwise the team is likely to closely resemble the starting XV and matchday 23 which featured in the 29-20 win over New Zealand last November.


Andrew Conway’s performance against the All Blacks should see him retained, with the sharp finishing Robert Baloucoune probably needing to increase his game involvement.

On the premise that the all-Leinster combinations in the frontrow, backrow and halfback are named in the starting line-up again, the other issues appear to be secondrow and midfield.

James Ryan and Iain Henderson have been the go-to secondrow combination for some time, but it’s a pairing that has often been disrupted by injuries, and they haven’t played in 10 and seven weeks respectively. By contrast, Tadhg Beirne’s form looks impossible to ignore, most probably in tandem with Ryan.

The claims of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw make that call look even closer. Aki was superb against the All Blacks and although Henshaw returned a week later in the win over Argentina, the former is also slightly more match-hardened this season.

Another marginal decision either way is at reserve hooker. Farrell and Paul O’Connell went with the security of Rob Herring’s superb lineout throwing against New Zealand before the powerful and dynamic Dan Sheehan, 6’ 3” and 111kg, made an eye-catching cameo in his second Test when scoring a try against the Pumas a week later. His game-breaking carrying will be hard to overlook.

Otherwise, the bench could again look much like it did against the All Backs in accommodating Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Henderson and the Munster trio of Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Joey Carbery.

Either of Keith Earls or Jordan Larmour have the versatility to be in the matchday squad, although as Carbery can cover fullback and Garry Ringrose can play on the wing, Henshaw would be an option there too if he’s not starting.

By contrast Wayne Pivac, whose options and planning have been much more affected by injuries to several experienced and key players in last season’s title-winning campaign, appears to have a number of conundrums to resolve.

This looks particularly true regarding the composition of their backline and backrow, although there’s some debate about other combinations as well.

Willis Halaholo’s minor hamstring strain makes him doubtful although Pivac and backs coach Stephen Jones will be keen to have his footwork in their midfield mix. Josh Adams, who has won all his 35 caps and scored 17 Test tries on the wing, was picked at outside centre last November against Fiji before pulling up in the warm-up and having had a cameo there for Cardiff against Toulouse. There’s speculation he may be asked to fill the void left by injury to another converted winger, George North.

This could also mean accommodating Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams in the back three. Alternatively, were Adams to start on the wing it could be at McNicholl’s expense, with Nick Tompkins renewing his midfield partnership with Halaholo.

Pivac likes big, physical blindsides and Ross Moriarty being released to play his first game since November with the Dragons last weekend may be a sign he will be named there.

Taine Basham was Wales’ player of the autumn series, and along with Aaron Wainwright might well complete the backrow, where Josh Navidi is a big miss. Ditto, of course, Alun Wyn Jones in the secondrow, where Adam Beard is likely to be partnered by either Will Rowlands or Seb Davies.

In the additional absence of both Elliot Dee and Ken Owens, Ryan Elias should start at hooker, perhaps with Wyn Jones and Tomos Francis either side, although loosehead is another close call.

IRELAND (possible): Keenan; Conway, Ringrose, Aki, Hansen; Sexton (capt), Gibson-Park; Porter, Kelleher, Furlong; Beirne, Ryan; Doris, Van der Flier, Conan.

Replacements: Sheehan, Healy, Bealham, Henderson, O'Mahony, Murray, Carbery, Henshaw/Earls/Larmour.

WALES (possible): McNicholl; Rees-Zammit, Adams, Halaholo, L Williams; Biggar (capt), T Williams; Jones, Elias, Francis; Beard, Rowlands; Moriarty, Basham, Wainwright.

Replacements: Roberts, Thomas, Lewis, Davies, Jenkins, Davieds, Anscombe, Tompkins.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times