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Aki and Ryan to make Six Nations bow after fine Guinness PRO14 form

James Ryan’s breakthrough year with Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 has earned him his first ever start in the Six Nations, as Ireland prepare to take on France.

The 21-year-old made his senior debut for Leo Cullen’s men at the start of the season, almost three months after he had run out for Ireland against the United States for the first time.

Impressive autumn internationals for Ryan and consistent performances for Leinster have earned the lock his place in the starting XV as Ireland head to the Stade de France for their Six Nations opener.

Head coach Joe Schmidt said: “We felt James Ryan went really well recently against Montpellier who are a big side, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he delivers on Saturday.

“We want to be able to keep building in that position (of second row), it’s a position we probably don’t have huge depth in. We’ve got a few young guys pushing through that we’ve given opportunities to and James is obviously one of those.”

AKI’S FORM PAYS OFF

Another shining light in the Guinness PRO14 has been Connacht’s Bundee Aki, who will start at centre.

The 27-year-old, who made his debut for Schmidt’s side in a stellar performance against South Africa last autumn, will be starting alongside Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw in the midfield.

The third player making his Six Nations debut is Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale, who will line-up in the back three for his fifth international cap.

Stockdale has four tries from his four Ireland appearances and in his current form, he could make that five from five in Paris.

Schmidt said: “[Bundee and Jacob] are really excited too about getting the opportunity to play in the Six Nations. I don’t think there’s a better place to be than in between Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw if you’re making your debut in the Six Nations.

“And having Keith (Earls) and Rob (Kearney) working with him in that back-three triangle, I think it’s a great position for Jacob to be in as well.”

LEINSTER DOMINATE

All four Irish provinces are represented in the starting XV but it’s Leinster that dominate the 23.

Leinster have an impressive 14 players within the matchday squad with seven of those having a starting berth.

There are five representatives from Munster in the 23 with Keith Earls returning to the side after an injury kept him out of the autumn internationals.

Ulster’s Rory Best will lead out Ireland with Aki the only representative from Connacht.

BIG HITTERS

Ireland will undoubtedly be looking to Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton for inspiration at the Stade de France.

It was a sluggish start to last season’s Six Nations for Ireland, going down 27-22 against Scotland.

But if Ireland can get Murray and Sexton singing from the same hymn sheet then Irish eyes could be smiling in Paris.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie