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new blood Mack Hansen set to get nod ahead of Keith Earls as Farrell prepares to name strong Ireland team

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Mack Hansen during Ireland Rugby squad training at IRFU HPC at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Mack Hansen during Ireland Rugby squad training at IRFU HPC at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Mack Hansen during Ireland Rugby squad training at IRFU HPC at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Connacht winger Mack Hansen is set to make his Ireland debut in Saturday's Six Nations opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium.

ANDY FARRELL looks set to stick close to the formula that undid New Zealand in November when he names his side to face Wales on Thursday.

The big talking points ahead of the team announcement is around the back three, where James Lowe's absence has created an opening and there is strong speculation lthat Connacht's Mack Hansen could be a surprise inclusion.

It appears Hansen is in a battle with Munster's Keith Earls and the 34-year-old's experience may earn him the nod with Ulster's Robert Baloucoune missing out altogether.

Ireland reported a clean bill of health earlier this week, but it appears Iain Henderson may have timed his return to fitness too late with James Ryan expected to join Tadhg Beirne in the second-row and Ryan Baird covering off the bench.

They'll slot in behind a front-row off Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong, with Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan in the back-row; presuming Furlong and Van der Flier make it through training after their recent injuries.

Behind the scrum, Jamison Gibson-Park is expected to renew his partnership with Johnny Sexton, while Robbie Henshaw looks set to edge Bundee Aki out of the midfield as he partners Garry Ringrose.

If selected, Earls would join Hugo Keenan and Andrew Conway in the back-three.

Possible Ireland team to face Wales: H Keenan; A Conway, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; T Beirne, J Ryan; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan.

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