Ireland to start with completely changed team against USA
Joe Schmidt looks like he will make a full 15 changes for the final November Test match
Ireland’s Sam Arnold during training ahead of the Guinness Series meeting with the USA in Dublin on Saturday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Joe Schmidt is expected to name an entirely new starting XV at lunchtime on Thursday for the final game of this month’s Guinness Series and, indeed, this momentous calendar year, against the USA at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 6.30pm).
Of the original 43 man squad, all but 10 have remained in camp, and in addition to the injured Kieran Marmion and Peter O’Mahony, it is anticipated that virtually all the front-liners who started the wins over Argentina and New Zealand, will be rested.
This means that the four half-backs in Saturday’s matchday squad pick themselves, and it could be that Schmidt and his coaches take this opportunity to give first Test starts to John Cooney and Ross Byrne.
Both players have been confined to replacement cameos in Chicago against Italy so far this month, whereas Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery started that game and have since played off the bench against both the Pumas and All Blacks.
With Robbie Henshaw sidelined and Bundee Aki having started all three games, Stuart McCloskey is in line for this third cap, a year after winning his second and almost three years after his first. Like him, Sammy Arnold has not appeared this month but, after a concussion issue in the first week, has been back in camp and may therefore be the one debutant.
Darren Sweetnam, hitherto unused this month, and Andrew Conway, who was on the wing in Chicago and a replacement against Argentina, look like being in the back three. Schmidt must be keen to see Will Addison in action again, and having ably deputised at the last minute for Robbie Henshaw against Argentina at outside centre, the decision to release Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour would point to Ulster’s new recruit starting at full-back.
The 26-year-old Cumbrian-born player has already been vindicated for his decision to leave Sale Sharks and join Ulster in the summer. A former England under-20 player, he spent a decade at Sale, where he was captain in his last season, and had a clause inserted in his contract that stipulated if an Irish province declared an interest he could invoke an early release.
He qualifies for Ireland through his mother, who hails from Enniskillen, and on foot of deciding to join Ulster he trained with the Irish squad in the week of last summer’s second Test in Melbourne while on holiday.
Although injury has restricted him to five appearances this season, Addison has impressed with his composure, elusiveness and versatility, primarily as an outside centre.
Up front, David Kilcoyne and Finlay Bealham, having so far been confined to bench duty in Chicago, are sure to be involved, and likewise Niall Scannell, who started stateside. If so, this would be a big opportunity for all three.
Scannell overcame an injury-bedeviled campaign last season by maximising his opportunity when called up as a late replacement for Rory Best on the Australian tour. Despite not having made the cut originally, the Munster hooker started the second and third Test victories, performing strongly in both, which made it a little surprising to see him confined to only the opening 40 minutes in Chicago so far this month.
Kilcoyne and Bealham have each revived their Test hopes after strong starts to the season with Munster and Connacht, notably at scrum time. Prior to the Italian game in Chicago, the 29-year-old Kilcoyne had not played for Ireland since November last year. Although he has 23 caps, the last of his four Test starts was against Scotland in a World Cup warm-up match in August 2015.
The 27-year-old, Canberra-born Bealham appeared to have slipped even further off the radar last season, with his replacement cameo almost three weeks ago in Chicago bridging a 17-month gap since his previous Test. Of his eight caps to date, his only start was against Canada in November 2016.
With Jack McGrath having been released, as the only other loosehead in the squad Cian Healy may be on the bench unless one of the other tightheads is covering across. John Ryan has seen no action yet, whereas Andrew Porter started in Chicago and played off the bench in the last two games, so may also be due a rest.
One of the additional covering players last Saturday against the All Blacks, Tadhg Beirne will surely come back in, with Iain Henderson and Quinn Roux the other locks likely to be on duty.
Presuming CJ Stander is rested, that leaves four loose forwards, with Rhys Ruddock set to captain the side again, as he did in Chicago, alongside Jack Conan and Jordi Murphy, with Josh van der Flier pressed into bench duty.
Having started all three games and scored last week’s match-winning try, Jacob Stockdale is presumably due a rest, in which case Keith Earls may have to provide cover from the bench.
Ireland (possible) v USA: Addison; Conway, Arnold, McCloskey, Sweetnam; Byrne, Cooney; Kilcoyne, Scannell, Bealham, Beirne, Henderson, Ruddock (capt), Murphy, Conan.
Replacements: Herring, Healy/Porter, John Ryan, Roux, van der Flier, L McGrath, Carbery, Earls.