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Ireland vs Wales team news: James Hume the only Ulster player in 23 as Connacht’s Mack Hansen handed shock start for Six Nations opener


James Hume. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

James Hume. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

James Hume. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

James Hume is the only Ulster player to be named in Ireland’s 23 for their opening Six Nations game against Wales on Saturday.

Iain Henderson had returned to training this week following an ankle injury picked up in mid-December but has not been included in the panel, while Hume is named in favour of Robbie Henshaw amongst the replacements.

Mike Lowry and Robert Baloucoune were both released to start for Ulster in tomorrow night’s United Rugby Championship tie at home to Connacht while there’s no spot in either squad for Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Nick Timoney and Kieran Treadwell, who are all in Ireland’s wider 37-man panel.

Baloucoune was the man most expected to get the nod to start for Ireland but misses out as Connacht winger Mack Hansen has been handed a shock place.

Hansen has been one of the breakout stars of the provincial season and he has done enough in the squad's pre-tournament training camp in Portugal to convince Andy Farrell that he's the man to take over from the injured James Lowe on the left wing.

It's a big call, with Hume's selection on the bench meaning Keith Earls and Jordan Larmour miss out.

A native of Canberra who played five times for Australia's U-20s and lined out for the Brumbies in Super Rugby, Hansen qualifies for Ireland through his mother who hails from Castlemartyr in Cork.

He slots into a back-three that also includes Hugo Keenan and Andrew Conway who returns to the side after sitting out the win over Argentina.

Bundee Aki has seen off the challenge of Robbie Henshaw for the No 12 shirt and he'll partner Garry Ringrose in the midfield. Henshaw remarkably doesn't make the match-day 23.

Johnny Sexton skippers the side from out-half where he'll link up with Leinster teammate Jamison Gibson-Park.

Up front, it's an all Leinster front-row of Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong, while James Ryan partners in-form Tadhg Beirne in the second-row.

Another all-Leinster trio makes up the back-row, with Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan linking up once again.

On the bench, Hume is the big selection call, with the in-form centre getting the nod ahead of Henshaw and a host of back-three options.

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Farrell prefers Dan Sheehan to Rob Herring as reserve hooker, as Cian Healy and Finlay Bealham cover the prop positions.

Ryan Baird is selected ahead of injury doubt Iain Henderson, while Munster's Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray and Joey Carbery cover back-row and the half-backs.

Ireland team to play Wales (Saturday, kick-off 2.15pm)

H Keenan, A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, M Hansen; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; T Beirne, J Ryan; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: D Sheehan, C Healy, F Bealham, Ryan Baird, P O'Mahony, C Murray, J Carbery, R Henshaw.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, James Hume

Wales team to play Ireland

L Williams (Scarlets); J McNicholl (Scarlets), J Adams (Cardiff), N Tompkins (Saracens), L Rees-Zammit (Gloucester); D Biggar (Northampton, capt), T Williams (Cardiff); W Jones (Scarlets), R Elias (Scarlets), T Francis (Ospreys), W Rowlands (Dragons), A Beard (Ospreys), E Jenkins (Cardiff), T Basham (Dragons), A Wainwright (Dragons).

Replacements: D Lake (Ospreys), G Thomas (Ospreys), D Lewis (Cardiff), S Davies (Cardiff), R Moriarty (Dragons), G Davies (Scarlets), C Sheedy (Bristol), O Watkin (Ospreys).

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