James Lowe is back on the wing for Ireland in Sunday’s Six Nations skirmish against Italy and the Kiwi flyer is expecting big things from teammate Mack Hansen.
Coach Andy Farrell recalled Lowe from a hamstring complaint in one of six changes to the side that went down against France in Paris.
Former Maori All Blacks and Chiefs finisher Lowe is set to make his season debut for Ireland in a back three with rookie fullback Mike Lowry and Australian-born Hansen, who is in spectacular form.
“He [Hansen] creates something out of nothing,” Lowe told the Irish Independent. “He’s been doing it at training, making space fortunately for me, poking his head through holes, his skillset is very good, it’s something I probably didn’t appreciate until I was outside him.
“He’s a bit like Damien McKenzie in how he plays in a lot of ways. He’s rapid, man. He’s quick. All of a sudden he can turn it on.
“Mack has had the X factor since he arrived, hasn’t he? No one would question his ability to finish and that’s what he’s done in these two last games.”
With veteran halfbacks Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton relegated to the bench, the perception is that Ireland are saving something for their final two matches against England and Scotland. Farrell rubbished the notion.
“Every time you put an Irish jersey on of course you’re under the microscope … these guys that take the field deserve the chance and I’m sure that they’re excited to show what they’ve got,” he said.
“It’s all about winning Test matches and make no mistake about it, we’re still in with a chance of winning the Championship.
“First and foremost, it’s about performing in the game and getting the result that we’re after, and at the same time when you get to this stage, you’ve been together for quite some time, people are putting their hands up and people deserve an opportunity.
“This isn’t like you get to the summer and you’ve got 13 guys missing and you’re giving people an opportunity.
“This is a proper Test match that means an awful lot to everyone in this group, so there’s a responsibility to this group to perform to the highest level and these guys know that responsibility and take that on. We want to see them under that type of pressure as well.”
IRELAND – 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Jamison Gibson Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Ryan Baird, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Subs: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 James Hume.
Coach: Andy Farrell (ENG)
ITALY – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Leonardo Marin, 11 Montanna Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Subs: 16 Epalahame Faiva, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Braam Steyn, 22 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Marco Zanon.
Coach: Kieran Crowley (NZL)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GEO)