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Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan is delighted to have “X-factor” wings Mack Hansen and James Lowe fit and ready to join him for a blockbuster World Cup quarter-final with the All Blacks.
Hansen appeared to be a major doubt for Saturday’s Stade de France clash after sitting out training on Tuesday and Wednesday due to a calf problem sustained in last weekend’s 36-14 win over Scotland.
Lowe has also overcome injury – an eye issue suffered against the Scots – to retain his starting role for the crunch meeting with his native New Zealand.
Ireland ended their final Pool B fixture in unfamiliar fashion with a scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park on the left flank and centre Garry Ringrose on the right.
Head coach Andy Farrell has been able to name an unchanged starting XV for a titanic last-eight encounter, including a first-choice backline.
“Its brilliant,” said Keenan. “We finished the game with an interesting back three.
“Jamo did a brilliant job, didn’t he? He is such a creative player, so exciting, so he slotted in well on the wing.
“To have the two lads back again brings a bit of X-factor to the back three. I always enjoy playing with them so great news.”
Hansen on Tuesday watched from the stands at Ireland’s training base of Stade des Fauvettes in the northern outskirts of Paris and was again absent on Wednesday, while Lowe took part in both sessions.
Veteran Keith Earls was thought to be pushing for a first appearance since the opening weekend of the tournament before Farrell sprung a surprise with his team announcement.
Referring to Australia-born Hansen, the coach said: “Everyone is very confident that he’s going to be fine for the game.”
Ireland propelled themselves to the top of the world rankings courtesy of last summer’s landmark 2-1 tour success in New Zealand, in addition to launching their current run of 17 consecutive victories.
Farrell’s in-form side have enjoyed a growing rivalry with the All Blacks, winning three of four meetings during his tenure and four of six overall.
“We haven’t played them for over a year now,” said Keenan. “They will have improved massively.
“They will have taken the learnings from those games and they’ll come out gunning for us as well.”
Lock Tadhg Beirne, who started all three Tests against New Zealand in 2022, feels there is a healthy respect between the two nations.
“Rugby is one of those games where, when you go on to the field, you go to beat the crap out of each other for 80 minutes and when you step off it, you’re very happy to grab a beer with your opposition number and enjoy the moments afterwards,” he said. “It’s no different with New Zealand.
“One thing I will remember from New Zealand is after the last Test, we had beaten them and we ran out of beer pretty quickly.
“The New Zealand squad were pretty quick to bring in their beer and leave us celebrating. That’s respect too, off-field respect.
“It will be no different on Saturday, we’re both going to go at it for 80 minutes and we’ll be very happy to walk in and have a beer in the changing room with them, for sure.”
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