Mack Hansen has been restored to Ireland’s starting XV as part of four personnel changes for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup clash with Tonga in Nantes.
Scrum-half Conor Murray, hooker Ronan Kelleher and flanker Josh van der Flier are also recalled following last weekend’s 82-8 thrashing of Pool B minnows Romania.
Johnny Sexton will captain a strong team at Stade de La Beaujoire, just seven days before Andy Farrell’s men take on defending champions South Africa.
Our team to face Tonga in Nantes! 🟢#TeamOfUs
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 14, 2023
Connacht wing Hansen made a 20-minute cameo during the victorious curtain-raiser in Bordeaux, having initially been left out of head coach Farrell’s opening matchday 23, despite being fit.
The 25-year-old’s late elevation to a spot among the replacements followed Robbie Henshaw pulling out ahead of kick-off due to a minor hamstring issue.
Centre Henshaw has seemingly recovered in time for this weekend after being named on a bench which also includes prop Dave Kilcoyne, who has been sidelined with a hamstring issue, and tournament debutants Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Craig Casey and Ross Byrne.
Hooker Dan Sheehan has returned to training following the foot issue he sustained in last month’s warm-up win over England but remains an absentee.
Rob Herring will provide backup for Kelleher, while scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and lock Joe McCarthy, who joined the South Africa-born hooker on the scoresheet against Romania, also drop out, in addition to wing Keith Earls.
The world’s top-ranked nation are seeking to extend their record winning streak to 15 matches to keep themselves on course for the quarter-finals moving towards pivotal Paris appointments with the Springboks and Scotland.
Kelleher will pack down between first-choice props Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong to make only his second Test start since the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.
The 25-year-old’s opportunities have been restricted by a series of injury setbacks and the emergence of Leinster team-mate Sheehan.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 13, 2023
Tadhg Beirne moves into the second row to partner James Ryan following his two-try turn at blindside flanker against Romania.
World player of the year Van der Flier comes in at openside flanker, pushing Peter O’Mahony into the number six shirt vacated by Beirne, while Caelan Doris continues at number eight.
Murray, who slipped behind Gibson-Park in the pecking order during 2021, resumes his long-term partnership with fellow veteran Sexton.
Fly-half Sexton last week came back from almost six months out through injury and suspension to become his country’s leading World Cup points scorer (102) by registering two tries as part of a 24-point haul.
With the South Africa showdown looming, Farrell has resisted temptation to rest the influential 38-year-old, who needs just nine more points to equal Ronan O’Gara’s national record of 1,083.
Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are retained in midfield, with Hansen in a familiar back three alongside fellow wing James Lowe and full-back Hugo Keenan. Ulster skipper Iain Henderson completes the bench.
Ireland team to play Tonga: H Keenan (Leinster); M Hansen (Connacht), G Ringrose (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Lowe (Leinster); J Sexton (Leinster, capt), C Murray (Munster); A Porter (Leinster), R Kelleher (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), J Ryan (Leinster), P O’Mahony (Munster), J Van der Flier (Leinster).
Replacements: R Herring (Ulster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), F Bealham (Connacht), I Henderson (Ulster), R Baird (Leinster), C Casey (Munster), R Byrne (Leinster), R Henshaw (Leinster).