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Conan to step in Heaslip's shoes

Jamie Heaslip's "natural successor" Jack Conan has jumped from Leinster debutant to Ireland's Six Nations training squad in just 12 months.

The 22-year-old number eight has already been dubbed Leinster's next Heaslip by team-mate Kevin McLaughlin.

The Under-20s graduate has already suffered and recovered from a broken ankle in his embryonic senior career.

And now the former St Gerard's School loose-forward has won the chance to show what he can do in front of Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

Conan and Connacht's 33-year-old prop Nathan White are the two uncapped stars in head coach Schmidt's 46-man Six Nations training squad announced on Thursday.

"He could be a natural successor to Jamie," said McLaughlin in October, backing Conan to follow in 69-cap number eight Heaslip's footsteps at Leinster.

"We'll have to see how he goes in the next couple of years but all the signs so far have been really positive.

"He's very young and he's already showing really promising form."

Conan's inclusion in Ireland's wider squad may yield a chance to turn out for the Irish Wolfhounds against England Saxons in Cork on Friday week.

Much-heralded rugby league convert Sam Burgess will accelerate his World Cup bid in England's second-string outfit, and the likes of Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien could feature for the hosts in their continued fight back from long-term injury.

New Zealand-born prop White was all set to become Ireland's fourth-oldest debutant in November before damaging an arm tendon.

Mike Ross and fit-again Marty Moore ought to tie down the tighthead roles this time out, however.

Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw have all been included in Ireland's initial squad, despite continuing injury issues.

Racing Metro fly-half Sexton could miss the first two rounds of fixtures while completing a 12-week lay-off after suffering four concussions in 12 months.

Munster scrum-half Murray is carrying a disc problem in his neck but the severity of his complaint remains unclear, while Connacht centre Henshaw is battling a "low-grade" ankle ligament injury.

Ireland launch their Six Nations title defence against Italy in Rome on Saturday, February 7.

Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Dan Tuohy and Damien Varley have been excluded from the squad entirely and therefore ruled out of the tournament.

Robin Copeland, Dave Kilcoyne, Luke Marshall, Donnacha Ryan and Andrew Trimble have been told to stay with their provinces, but could yet be called up during the competition.

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