Kidd believes an improving United States are ready to present formidable challenge

 

WHILE it has taken a long, time to establish international rugby relations between Ireland and the United States the connections have grown appreciably since they first met in 1989.

Another link will be added to the chain that binds the two countries today when they meet at the Life College Stadium in Atlanta for the second time at full international level in 14 months and the third since 1989.

These are dramatic and rapidly changing times in rugby union but as is their heritage, the Americans have always aspired to being the best, irrespective of what element of life in which they are competing.

Sports has always been high on their list of priorities even if rugby has figured some way down that list and they still have a long climb to get near the top.

But like much else in a game that is rapidly becoming a business, the Americans see the new era as a renewed opportunity and are working hard at getting the best results from the talents available.

Their new television deal with the Rupert Murdoch organisation has now given them the money to go with ambition and there is no doubt that a new belief and attitude obtains in US rugby.

Co-ordination and organisation in so vast a country has been a problem but they are working on that and a glance at their side and the widely spread areas from which, the players are drawn is significant.

Their coach Jack Clarke has had the side together for the last week. "That has been very beneficial and a great opportunity for us as is this match against Ireland which presents us with a big challenge but equally a big opportunity, he said. Big is a word beloved of the Americans and they have certainly gone for the big men in their reconstructed pack, only four of whom played against Ireland in Dublin in November 1994 when the countries last met.

The two second rows are both six feet nine inches and one of them Luke Gross was scheduled to join Galwegians next month. But it is indicative of the new determination in America that Clarke has stopped that proposed move.

He wants his players available and based in America. Open side flanker Dab Lyle is six feet five, blind side flanker Ron Randell is six feet four and number eight Richard Tardits the smallest of the back five at six feet two. Not that the Irish back five could be put in the mini division either but they cannot quite match the physical dimensions of their opponents.

But Irish coach Murray Kidd and manager Pat Whelan believe that Ireland will be more than a match for the opposition technically and tactically. "We have our aims and objectives to counter them in the line out and I think we will," Whelan said.

Certainly line out supremacy is a vital cog in the approach the Irish forwards want to adopt. A great deal of attention has been paid here to support and continuity and I expect to see Ireland use the maul a lot and new cap Victor Costello's ability to make ground. His strength and pace could cause the Americans problems and reap rich dividends for Ireland.

Kidd wants to see Ireland play in much the same manner they did against Fiji, but believes that the Americans will present a more formidable challenge.

"This is another step on and probably upwards in the preparation for the championship," Kidd said. Obviously he is hoping for a good result but he also wants a good performance.

"The match is of immense importance in every respect, for the team, for individuals and as preparation for the championship match against Scotland in a fortnight's time," he said.

"I hope it will prove that we have moved on from the Fiji game, improved in several areas. One thing that has pleased me is the attitude and the enthusiasm. I want to see those attributes now reflected in the performance."

It is no secret that management want to see Ireland adopt a fluid and expansive, but of course sensible approach, with the ball used effectively and not run from any area for the sake of running.

Eric Elwood has been given his chance at outside half to seen if he can fit in with Kidd's plans and ideas and it is a very big match for him as it is for Costello and new cap in the centre Kurt McQuilkin.

Elwood will have to curb what at times has been his first inclination, to kick, and if he does kick he will need to be good in his placement for the US full back, Mark Williams, is a very accomplished player as he proved when he played at outside half against Ireland 14 months ago.

Ireland won that match 26-15 but the performance in achieving the win was singularly unimpressive. Kidd will be looking for a display of an altogether different dimension.

There is plenty of pace and talent in the Irish back line and if the forwards win good possession and Elwood puts it to account Ireland should win without great anxiety.

Anything other than victory would be a major setback in every respect even though the Americans have undoubtedly improved since the teams last met.

But victory that embraces quality is what Ireland is seeking and of course now the honour of wearing the national jersey and doing it justice is no longer the only issue for players. The financial benefits for success are now appreciable, membership of the team carries additional financial rewards and human nature being what it is, added incentive. It is play for pay now.

Whelan and Kidd met the match referee Canadian George Gavorich yesterday and Clarke was also present at the meeting. He is an experienced official and we outlined certain things to him in relation to application of laws. It was a satisfactory meeting," Whelan said.

Let us hope he will be expressing even more satisfaction after the match this afternoon. All the tickets have been sold but the capacity is only around 3.000. "If we had a bigger stadium available we could undoubtedly have sold around 8.000 tickets.