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'It's great to have new faces' - Hansen and Lowry add energy to Ireland camp

Andy Farrell is sure that Gavin Coombes will be looking to prove a point.

Mack Hansen and Mike Lowry.
Mack Hansen and Mike Lowry.

THIS WEEK ISN’T Mike Lowry and Mack Hansen’s first time in an Ireland camp but there’s no doubt that it will be feeling a little more momentous.

Lowry was involved last summer when Ireland played Japan and the US, while Hansen came in for a stint during the November Tests. Being part of Six Nations camp is surely that little bit more special.

Both have been included as fully-fledged members of Ireland’s squad for this championship. They’re not ‘development players’ brought in just to get a short and sweet taste of what it’s like to be part of the international set-up.

They will both hope to get a chance during one of Ireland’s five games over the next eight weekends and will no doubt benefit from being part of Andy Farrell’s squad over the coming months.

“We bring them into the squad to see how they are in a different environment,” said Farrell ahead of his squad’s departure for a six-day training camp in Portugal.

“It’s very different in an international set-up, you’ve got to be able to get up to speed as soon as you possibly can and adapt to a different way of playing.

“And also, with all that, can you bring your point of difference? Can you be yourself?

“We know what they’re like, the attitude that they will bring. Hopefully it kicks them on. They have certainly been performing extremely well for the provinces.”

There’s no doubt about that, with 23-year-old wing Hansen making a flying start to life with Connacht after joining from the Brumbies last summer, while 23-year-old Lowry has been in superb form at fullback for Ulster.

andy-farrell Farrell at Ireland training today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Captain Johnny Sexton says they’re welcome additions to Ireland’s squad.

“The two lads have been playing brilliantly for their provinces and that’s why they’re here,” he said.

“They add that youthful excitement and add a lot of energy to the squad. You can see that already in how they’ve prepared over the course of yesterday.

“It’s great to have new faces in. In the years we’ve been successful, we’ve always had new people in, pushing the guys that have the jersey from the previous campaign, and creating an environment where there is competition for places.”

James Lowe has been ruled out through injury, so there is a place on Ireland’s left wing up for grabs, although it would be a big leap for Hansen to go straight into the starting XV.

Hugo Keenan is one of the first names onto Ireland’s team sheet at fullback, but Lowry will be pushing for a chance at some point in this championship.

Meanwhile, Gavin Coombes isn’t exactly a new face for Ireland but this is his first Six Nations campaign. He won his first two caps last summer but then had the frustration of being ill during the November Tests, meaning he didn’t feature on the pitch at all.

Again, there is stiff competition in the back row with Caelan Doris, Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony and Nick Timoney all back from the autumn squad, but 24-year-old Munster number eight Coombes has hit form again in recent weeks.

“It was frustrating for him because you want to see continuity within a series from week to week and see people grow,” said Farrell, “certainly people who are new to the environment.

“Gavin being young and pushing so well at provincial level, you want to see him grasp that opportunity to thrive and grow and get used to the competition here. He’s back playing well now. He’s fit and seems raring to go and I’m sure he’s got a point to prove.”

gavin-coombes-leaves-the-field-due-to-a-yellow-card Gavin Coombes is fully fit and in form. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Connacht’s Jack Carty is back in the Ireland squad to compete with Joey Carbery for the back-up out-half slot behind Sexton, while there is a change to the second row options too.

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Ultan Dillane’s move to La Rochelle at the end of this season has resulted in him being left out, although Ulster man Kieran Treadwell brings excellent form into the Ireland squad.

With Iain Henderson still recovering from an ankle injury, Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan could be in line to start the opener against Wales in two weekends’ time.

If Henderson isn’t fit to feature in the matchday squad, then Treadwell will be vying with Leinster’s Ryan Baird for a possible bench slot.

“Ultan is a great player and he has been unbelievably reliable for us at this level for many years,” said Farrell. “He’s a big-game player, Ultan, he has always stepped up when the pressure has been on.

“But it opens doors. It isn’t just Kieran Treadwell who is playing well and pushing for places. There are one or two other guys that are playing extremely well for the provinces who are extremely unlucky not to be picked.

“Kieran is of a similar ilk to Ultan and when you are picking five or six second rows, the blend of them is very important to get right.”

Farrell is also excited to see how development player Cian Prendergast does in the Portugal camp, having impressed in the back row for Connacht.

“He’s got a phenomenal work rate and he’s got a bit of fire in his belly as well, his fundamentals are pretty good for a back row forward,” said Farrell.

“It’s something we’ve done in the past and hope that giving these lads the experience can help grow our squad in the future.”

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Murray Kinsella

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