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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 21 April 2021

November clean sweep beckons for Schmidt's Ireland against the Eagles

Captain Rhys Ruddock wants his players to focus on the collective, rather than individual gain.

THIS, IN AN odd way, is perhaps the most dangerous game of the lot this November.

Ireland are 35-point favourites, the USA are at the very end of their season, and most people expect Joe Schmidt’s much-changed team to stroll to victory.

With today’s Test [KO 6.30pm, RTÉ/Channel 4] potentially being the last clear opportunity for a number of the Irish players to impress at this level before next year’s World Cup, the stakes are clearly high.

Ireland players pose for the team photo Ireland line up for their team photo at the Aviva yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

But those who fall into an individualistic mindset or find themselves tempted into thinking about Ireland’s favouritism will pay the price.

Internationals against teams outside the top 10 in the world may not garner quite as much excitement – although a sell-out crowd indicates there is plenty of interest here – but Joe Schmidt remembers every detail of these games.

Some of those who didn’t grasp their opportunity on the 2017 tour of the US and Japan have struggled to work their way back into Schmidt’s plans, while the Fiji Test in Dublin last November – which Ireland scraped through on a 23-20 scoreline – is a more recent reminder.

“We maybe tried to play as individuals a little bit [against Fiji], not stick to what makes us strong and the collective,” says Rhys Ruddock, who captained Ireland against Fiji and does so against the US today.

“I think everyone fully understands that. We have spoken about it but I think everyone’s well aware of it and the coaching staff are well aware of that.

“It’s like any other Test match, the way we get the result we want is by all being on the same page and making sure we operate well as a team.”

Opportunity abounds all over the park for Ireland, from Will Addison winning his third cap at fullback, Andrew Conway getting a starting opportunity on the right wing and Darren Sweetnam back in an Ireland jersey for the first time since that Fiji game.

Garry Ringrose Garry Ringrose is retained in midfield. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Garry Ringrose offers a calm decision-making presence at outside centre, while Stuart McCloskey will be keen to make a controlled impression in the 12 shirt.

Having watched Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath’s stock rise in recent weeks, John Cooney will be hungry for his starting chance at scrum-half, with Joey Carbery set for his 16th cap alongside him.

“He’s obviously a quality operator and someone the lads enjoy playing with,” said Ruddock of the Ireland out-half.

“When we talk about the collective, he is a guy who can make you look good or perform well when he’s doing the type of things he can do. He can put you into space. The guys are excited about playing with him.

“He understands the role he plays in making sure that the team goes well. He seems to step up to that well.”

The pack is an intriguing one, with Dave Kilcoyne and Finlay Bealham both in good physical condition as they get a shot in the propping slots and Niall Scannell keen to keep the pressure on Rory Best at hooker.

Tadhg Beirne, so excellent in Chicago against Italy, returns in the second row alongside the experienced Iain Henderson.

Off the bench, Munster’s Sammy Arnold is set for his Ireland debut after several involvements in camps under Schmidt this year, while Ross Byrne should get cap number two. 

Blaine Scully ties his rainbow laces in support of Gareth Thomas USA captain Blaine Scully will wear his rainbow laces in support of Gareth Thomas. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The starting back row of captain Ruddock, Jack Conan and Jordi Murphy could arguably hold their own against most teams in the world, and it seems crazy that one of them could end up missing out on the World Cup when that rolls around next year.

Such is the depth of competition for Schmidt in that area and others, but Ruddock insists this Ireland team won’t be looking towards the future.

“When you’re out there, you’re completely in the moment and you’re not thinking about those types of things,” says the blindside flanker. “You’re not thinking about opportunity down the line or anything like that, you’re just trying to do your job.

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“I think that’s just about the preparation during the week. You’ve trained with the mentality of, ‘I’m not doing this for myself, I’m doing this for the team.’

“From what I’ve seen and experienced during the week, I think we’ve done it well. Hopefully, that leads to that performance we’re talking about.”

An ambitious USA team, now ranked in a best-ever 13th position in World Rugby’s official list, should help keep Ireland’s focus on the task at hand.

Gary Gold’s team, for whom Irishman Greg McWilliams is attack coach, have won 10 of their 11 games this year, including a Grand Slam in the Americas Rugby Championship.

Former Munster underage tighthead prop Paul Mullen, who was schooled in Glenstal and King’s Hospital, and ex-Munster A and Dolphin RFC flanker John Quill are included in the Eagles’ starting team, while Dylan Fawsitt is set to impact off the bench.

Greg McWilliams with Dylan Fawsitt, Paul Mullen and John Quill The Eagles' Irish contingent. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Among their most dangerous weapons is powerhouse centre Paul Lasike, who grew up in New Zealand and had a stint in the NFL with the Chicago Bears before switching back to rugby. He has been immense this year and now plays for Harlequins in England.

Number eight Cam Dolan is an athletic presence, while loosehead Titi Lamositele and hooker Joe Taufete’e are powerful carriers, as is replacement Samu Manoa.

Out-half AJ MacGinty, out injured, will likely be missed, however, and an upset in Dublin looks like a big ask for the Eagles.


15. Will Addison
14. Andrew Conway
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Darren Sweetnam
10. Joey Carbery
9. John Cooney

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. Finlay Bealham 
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. Iain Henderson
6. Rhys Ruddock (captain)
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Jack Conan.


16. Rob Herring
17. Cian Healy
18. John Ryan
19. Quinn Roux
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Luke McGrath
22. Ross Byrne
23. Sammy Arnold


15. Will Hooley
14. Blaine Scully (captain)
13. Bryce Campbell
12. Paul Lasike
11. Marcel Brache 
10. Will Magie
9. Shaun Davies

1. Titi Lamositele
2. Joe Taufete’e
3. Paul Mullen
4. Greg Peterson
5. Nick Civetta
6. John Quill
7. Hanco Germishuys
8. Cam Dolan


16. Dylan Fawsitt
17. Chance Wenglewsk
18. Dino Waldren
19. Samu Manoa 
20. David Tameilau
21. Ruben de Haas
22. Gannon Moore
23. Ryan Matyas

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe [New Zealand].

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Murray Kinsella

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