Ed Elliot, PA
Ireland and France will lock horns on Saturday in Paris in a mouth-watering contest which could have a major bearing on the destination of the Guinness Six Nations title.
Here's a look at the intriguing battle between two of the star men from the opening weekend of the championship...
Gabin Villiere – Toulon and France
Pour toi mon Mich ✨🤍 pic.twitter.com/8vSuXNqfR8
— Gabin Villière (@gabinvilliere) February 6, 2022
Debut: v Italy, 2020
Weight: 14st 9lbs
Points: 30 (Tries 6)
Hailed as a “warrior” by France team manager Raphael Ibanez following last weekend’s hat-trick against Italy, Villiere was playing amateur rugby with Rouen as recently as three years ago.
He honed his skills in the sevens game and eventually found his niche as a flying finisher having failed to fully convince at scrum-half or centre during the less illustrious days of his career.
A hand injury curtailed his maiden Six Nations campaign in 2021, but he holds an enviable Test strike-rate and has remained central to the plans of Les Bleus coach Fabien Galthie moving towards next year’s home World Cup.
Mack Hansen – Connacht and Ireland
The #GuinnessSixNations Player of the Match on debut!
Congratulations, Mack! ✊🟢#TeamOfUs | #IREvWAL pic.twitter.com/DqVfaWJzY7
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 5, 2022
Debut: v Wales, 2022
Thrust into Ireland’s starting XV for the tournament opener against Wales on the back of outstanding form for his province and an injury to James Lowe, the native Australian did not disappoint.
Hansen, whose mother hails from Cork, delivered a fine assist for Bundee Aki’s opening try and went on to be named man of the match and the championship’s player of round one.
The 23-year-old only moved to Ireland from Canberra-based club Brumbies last year. His instant Test impact came as little surprise to head coach Andy Farrell, who has described Hansen as a “smart rugby player” who “makes things happen”.