Stuart Olding and Robbie Henshaw to make Ireland debuts in Houston

Ian Madigan edges out Paddy Jackson for outhalf berth

New Ireland caps Robbie Henshaw (left) and Stuart Olding. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

New Ireland caps Robbie Henshaw (left) and Stuart Olding. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 


A changing of the guard was inevitable this summer but the most glaring statistic is more than a little worrying. The starting XV Les Kiss fields against the USA tomorrow will have a combined total of just 119 caps.

That makes it the least experienced Ireland team since a XV with 86 caps combined were beaten 16-0 by England at Twickenham on February 10th, 1962. Test match virgins that day included Willie John McBride and Ray McLoughlin but there were casualties as well. Not many remember Laurence L’Estrange or Francis Gilpin.

There will be just two debutants in Houston but Connacht fullback Robbie Henshaw (who turns 20 next week) and Ulster’s inside centre Stuart Olding are clearly picked on form.

Ian Madigan, David Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson are also making their first starts in a team led by the reassuringly combative Peter O’Mahony.

Drop off
To provide further context to the drop off in experience, take the France game in Dublin on March 9th. Despite Ronan O’Gara being dropped and Gordon D’Arcy injured, the starting XV still boasted 494 caps.

The only survivors are O’Mahony, Mike McCarthy, Mike Ross and Fergus McFadden.

Paddy Jackson makes the bench behind Leinster’s player of the season, Ian Madigan.

“I’m not asking Ian to be a person who creates magic,” said Kiss. “I’m asking him to be a 10 that understands the role at Test level. I’m asking him to be a good, solid, consistent performer and have the patience to know it will take a little bit longer to express his little darts and skill-sets. But they will come if we play the game plan.”

The bench also lacks exposure to international rugby, although Mike Sherry, Jamie Hagan and Tommy O’Donnell have earned this opportunity.

Kiss went for Felix Jones over Andrew Trimble at number 23, with Ulster’s top try-scoring winger sure to earn his 50th cap as a starter in Toronto tomorrow week.

“The tour is mainly an opportunity for players to be informed about what it takes to prep for Test matches and then to be experience it on the pitch and to inform the coaching staff what the players are capable of.”

Sharpened talons
Still, with 10 frontliners on the Lions tour in Australia, the US Eagles are looking down from their perch with sharpened talons. Head coach Mike Tolkin has selected the four returning Europe-based players and an all-professional backrow of Samu Manoa, Scott LaValla and Japan-based captain Todd Clever.

Some 18,000 tickets have been sold for the BBVA Compass stadium in downtown Houston, locally known as “The Oven” by Dynamo soccer fans.

The weather conditions cannot be overstated. It will be 30-plus degrees come the 7.45pm kick-off (1.45am Irish time, live on TG4) and the humidity is always stifling.

At least the Irish expatriate community are out on force. Seán Dunne was at breakfast in the Hilton this morning.
USA: C Wyles; L Hume, S Kelly, A Suniula, T Ngwenya; T L’Estrange, M Petri; S Pittman, C Biller, E Fry; B Doyle, L Stanfill; S Manoa, S Lavalla, T Clever (capt). Replacements: Z Fenoglio, N Wallace, P Thiel, P Dahl, J Quill, R Shaw, J Paterson, A Siddall.