Ireland arrive in New Jersey with clean bill of health for latest US mission

Simon Easterby: ‘There’s a lot of excitement with some of the youngsters involved’

Ireland have arrived in New Jersey, reporting a clean bill of health and armed with the valuable knowledge gleaned from their recent US mission.

In November, you may recall, a Joe Schmidt squad without Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Paddy Jackson created history by beating the All Blacks 40-29 at Soldier Field, Chicago.

This young group, in week one of a three week journey which ends with a second test against Japan in Tokyo on June 24th, is charged with maintaining Schmidt’s famed standards despite losing 11 Irish Lions to New Zealand.

"We have good memories of being in the States in November," said forwards coach Simon Easterby, who also stated there are no unplanned absentees since losing Tommy O'Donnell following his injury in the Pro 12 final.

“This time around, with a different group of players, there is a lot of excitement with some of the youngsters that are involved for the first time. It’s a great place to be in, we are in a great location, and we are looking forward to what will be a great test and challenge for the lads on the weekend.”

On Saturday (10pm Irish time), live on eir Sport, Schmidt will field an unfamiliar side to face the US Eagles at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

"There is a bit of inexperience," conceded Easterby. "But there is the experience of Cian Healy and Devin Toner particularly in the forwards.

“These tours were probably ear-marked for a bit of that inexperience to come through and build our depth. We are two years out from a World Cup. This is a great starting point for a lot of these young players to get an opportunity and to spend time with them. To invest some time in them, but to get to know each other as well and see how they perform under a bit of pressure. A bit more pressure than some of them are used to.”

It's a crucial match for the US Eagles, and their outgoing coach John Mitchell - the former All Black coach will take up the role of Bulls' Executive of Rugby in South Africa after the World Cup qualifiers against Canada.

So Ireland provides the ideal tune-up.

"They will be desperate to put in a good performance to try and springboard their qualification into the two Canadian games. They have plenty of experience as well. Obviously we are well aware of AJ MacGinty at '10' and his time at Connacht and his time now at Sale. But Nate Augspurger, his half-back partner at nine, he's electric, he can play on the wing as well and he's a real threat. They have a lot of Sevens experience in the squad as well. They are a real threat if we give them those opportunities. Mike Te'o, Madison Hughes, both real quality individuals with ball in hand.

“They’ve actually grown as a forward pack under John Mitchell, they’ve developed a really strong driving game. They have a couple of front rowers who are playing in the Aviva Premiership at the moment. From where they have come from, they have certainly got much more depth. They are a lot stronger than they were a few years ago and a real test for us.”

In June 2013, five penalties from Ian Madigan and a vital late intervention by Devin Toner guided Ireland to a 15-12 victory in Houston. Only Kieran Marmion, Simon Zebo, Dave Kilcoyne and Toner remain from that squad with Rhys Ruddock replacing O'Mahony as captain.

Between now and Saturday it is conceivable that Zebo, Cian Healy, Garry Ringrose and even Keith Earls could be transported from New Jersey to New Zealand.

“There is always that opportunity,” Easterby added. “There are a number of players that are aware that they may be called out. That is the case with all summer tours.

“It is important that the players who aren’t involved at the moment go and get a break. But there are plenty of players that need to carry a pair of boots and a gum-shield with them just in case they get called up.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent