Schmidt keeps his young guns in reserve

Garry Ringrose and Joey Carbery on the bench for test against New Zealand

Joe Schmidt is holding Ireland's new generation for later in the day.

But here they come. Despite an injury plagued 18 months, Rob Kearney has done enough to return for a 70th cap against New Zealand in Soldier Field as a jubilant Chicago, following the Cubs epic World Series victory Wednesday night, glances at hardcore test match rugby.

That decision also sees Schmidt revert to his trusted midfield paring of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw.

The form players in Ireland right now - Garry Ringrose and Joey Carbery - will almost certainly win their first caps together in the second half of what promises to be a brutally physical affair.


“Those two youngsters they can run all day,” said Schmidt of the 21-year-olds, speaking on the 16th floor of Trump Towers (the Irish team base). “Hopefully they are not chasing shadows.

“It is a baptism of fire, isn’t it? Do we find out if they are ready at such a high level? It is not ideal and would have been nice to have them in a test match that is less daunting.

“But they haven’t shown signs of being intimidated by the task. The excitement is overriding the nerves so far. They are both quite natural players. Garry reads things well, he picks his moments well, he makes good decisions.

“Joey is very similar.

“What’s impressive is Joey has played every weekend since pre-season so we were pretty keen to give him the weekend off, to be honest, but there is such a bounce about him he has given us the confidence that he is ready to go.”

For Payne it will be a particularly special Test match, his 17th in green, as the 31-year-old son of Tauranga faces his own people.

"If Jared is over there and that's what he wants to do, if he meets the criteria, I think that is great," said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen earlier in the Hyatt hotel just across the Chicago river.

“Bundee Aki is not far away either. He’ll be another one.

“The powers that be have got all the information at hand and as long as people aren’t taking advantage of young athletes and putting them in a situation where they are promising stuff and don’t actually give it to them, I think that would be wrong.

“By and large it has been happening for a long time. Whether it is it three or four years, that’s for the powers that be to work out.”

Just one of so many subplots in a super sporting city that’s bursting with joy. The Bulls face the New York Knicks Friday night. The Bears are having a nightmarish season.

For a moment, and only that, the locals will linger over rugby’s phenomenal entity.

But it is all about The Cubs.

The All Blacks and Irish Captain’s Run at the Bears stadium have both been disrupted as this 2.6 million metropolis city is expected to grind to a happy halt on Friday lunchtime when their beloved Cubs are paraded down town.

108 years is a long time to wait. So is never. Some wishful thinking souls see it as an omen. Perhaps. The All Blacks are shy on secondrows with Hansen opting to switch Jerome Kaino from blindside rather than giving Beauden Barrett's little big brother Scott a run-on debut.

"We've got Sam (Whitelock) and Brodie (Retallick) snipered a couple of weeks ago so they are not available. Unfortunately Luke Romano had a bereavement in his family. Then we got a young guy (Scott Barrett) who has not played a test match, he has only been around the team for four days so we just felt it was better for him coming off the bench.

“JK covered lock for us at the World Cup and during this season as well. We are relatively comfortable that he will be ok, he’s a good scrummager and we got quite a bit of variation in our lineout.”

Other notable Irish selections are Jordi Murphy, who performed so well against South Africa last June, named at openside ahead of Josh van der Flier.

New Zealand no longer have Richie McCaw but the with Sam Cane to be replaced by the explosive Ardie Savea they have the only possible replacement for their greatest All Black. Two men.

The game also, potentially, signals the new era for an Irish tighthead with Tadhg Furlong, the 23-year-old having only ever started one test match, the second Springbok game in June.

"I'm Jack McGrath by the way," said the Irish loosehead when mistaken for Ireland captain Rory Best. "I'll be going up against Owen Franks.

“He’s a massively experienced operator. A Hugely physical battle. It is going to be won and lost at scrum time.”

2013, unfinished business? “No, not at all. That’s forgotten about.

New challenge - we are playing against the best team in the world.

“It’s really exciting.”

The bench will matter. Finlay Bealham will relieve Furlong at some stage while Ultan Dillane's Six Nations impact from the stand will be crucial. Same goes for Cian Healy. Same goes for the stunning rise of Carbery and Ringrose.

Still an awfully tall order. But a magnetic and enormously compelling occasion is promised. Strap in.

Ireland: Rob Kearney; Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong; Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Garry Ringrose.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent