Ireland to return to United States for summer Test clash

Joe Schmidt's side likely to play on America's east coast in June ahead of tour of Japan

Ireland’s Conor Murray, Ultan Dillane, Jamie Heaslip and Josh van der Flier strike a pose with the Chicago skyline in the background. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s Conor Murray, Ultan Dillane, Jamie Heaslip and Josh van der Flier strike a pose with the Chicago skyline in the background. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Ireland are to play the United States in a one-off game in June ahead of the two Test tour of Japan.

Joe Schmidt’s 27-man squad are currently in Chicago preparing for Saturday’s opening November fixture against the All Blacks at Soldier Field but their return Stateside next summer will see them on the east coast, probably a New York venue.

The end-of-season tour will be similar to 2013 when Schmidt first joined the Ireland squad during a North American tour that included victories in Houston in Texas and Toronto in Canada.

Again, with many of Ireland’s leading players on the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, it will provide valuable exposure for those who may come into the reckoning before the 2019 World Cup, which also takes place in Japan.

The US, currently guided by former Ireland forwards coach and All Black head coach John Mitchell, faces the New Zealand Maoris this Friday at Soldier Field.

A number of Irish coaches are currently working in the US collegiate system. Greg McWilliams is director of rugby at Yale University, former Ireland prop Justin Fitzpatrick is at Seattle Saracens and Gavin Hickie is coaching Dartmouth.

McWilliams, along with former Munster academy coach Ray Egan, is also working with the All-American collegiate team.

“Ireland West,” joked US Rugby chief executive Dan Payne. “We’ll keep taking all the best Irish coaches and young players that want to go to university over here.

Beating that drum

“We are beating that drum as much as possible. There are over 35 million people in the United States that consider themselves Irish-American.”

Payne was previously athletic director at Life University, proving instrumental in AJ MacGinty launching his professional rugby career as a US international.

The former Connacht outhalf, who is now with Sale, has kicked 120 points in 10 internationals since featuring at last year’s World Cup.

“I saw AJ five or six years ago when he came over to the States from Blackrock to play with the New York Athletic Club,” said Payne. “Life played New York in a championship game, when I watched four or five conversions getting made from the touchline, left and right, and he was switching foot depending on which side.

Mike Tolkin was the head coach of the US men’s team at the time. I asked him: ‘Who is that guy?’ ‘Oh, that’s AJ MacGinty, he is just over on holiday.’ ‘Well, I think he might want to stay a little longer and maybe get a Masters, don’t you think?’

“He got a Masters in sports science, got eligible for residency and now he is growing into the player that is kicking conversions to help us beat Canada. He was late to mature physically, and was able to put on 15, 20 pounds with us, but he so obviously had the skills having come from a strong age-grade programme.”

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