This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 3 June, 2020

Letter from Chicago: Larmour and Beirne big winners from week in the US

This year’s visit to the Windy City was very different to the clash with the All Blacks in 2016.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

IRELAND FLY HOME from the Windy City in two groups today and there are likely to be mixed feelings about the past week en route to Dublin.

For some – Jordan Larmour, take a bow – it was a brilliant experience but others struggled to stand out as they were given a big opportunity to impress by Joe Schmidt.

The exposure to Test rugby for many inexperienced players was the real key to this week in a rugby sense, with Tadhg Beirne among several to show that they belong at this level.

Garry Ringrose scores Ireland's seventh try Garry Ringrose runs in a try for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While Joe Schmidt underlined the importance of giving this squad their shot, one does wonder whether this trip was a slight nuisance given the challenges ahead in the next fortnight.

Schmidt only arrived in Chicago on Thursday, having remained in Ireland with a group of senior players to begin training for the Tests against Argentina and the All Blacks.

He and the 26 players who travelled to Chicago will get back into Carton House early on Monday morning and must immediately launch into their detailed preparations to face the Pumas on Saturday in Dublin.

Coming off a seven-hour flight and going straight back to work is hardly an ideal way to launch the Test week, although we can be sure that Schmidt won’t allow his players to look for excuses.

The quality of the game in Chicago may also be something Schmidt and Ireland ponder, with a scrappy encounter being decided partly by moments of excellence from the likes of Beirne and Larmour, and partly by some poor Italian decision-making and tackling.

Chicago 2018 was always going to be hard pressed to match up to Chicago 2016, the absence of the All Blacks being the most obvious reason.

While Chicago is a brilliant city – with jazz clubs, deep dish pizza, Chicago Bulls games and much more – the build-up to this ‘Rugby Weekend’ was far more muted than was the case two years ago.

Rugby naturally struggles to make a major dent in a city that also loves its basketball, baseball and American football, but there appeared to be little in the way of promotion around Ireland’s game, which was proceeded by USA Women playing their New Zealand counterparts and followed by the US Eagles’ defeat to the Māori All Blacks.

Tadhg Beirne in the line out There was a crowd of around 30,000 for Ireland's win. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There has been a feeling that Ireland’s involvement in the US was about making some handy cash, although the union says its fee was somewhere around €250,000 for taking part, rather than the €1 million figure that circulated.

Lining the pockets a little more certainly makes sense although one does wonder whether this trip will leave Ireland with doubts about coming back in the near future. 

Soldier Field is a stunning venue but with a crowd that organisers said totalled 35,015 it felt a little bare before and during Ireland’s win, even with the stadium announcer prompting supporters to “make some noise for the Irish Rugby Football Union.”

The surface at the home of the Chicago Bears was poor too, Ireland seemingly lucky to escape without any injuries.

That said, it was a great day out for members of the Irish diaspora in Chicago and from further afield, with several Ireland fans who attended the game reporting very positively on their experience.

For Ireland’s players, it was an enjoyable week away from the pitch too. Many of them visited the Chicago Bulls’ United Centre, some took a tour of the Blackhawks’ training facilities, and there was a big squad dinner on the Tuesday night.

With Schmidt absent for the first part of the week, there was also an opportunity for assistant coaches Simon Easterby and Andy Farrell – who will be among the favourites for the top job if Schmidt leaves post-World Cup – to take on more responsibility.

Everything naturally took a step up in intensity upon Schmidt’s arrival, but it was perhaps telling that the head coach did opt to give his assistants ownership early in the build-up.

Simon Easterby Simon Easterby and Andy Farrell will be among the candidates for Schmidt's job if he leaves. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt was in very positive form in Chicago, speaking openly with the travelling media on Thursday and post-match on Saturday.

Indeed, he almost had the relaxed demeanour of a man who has made a big decision and is comfortable with it.

With his promise to confirm that decision before the end of this November Test window, that’s a story for another day.

Schmidt certainly has a bit more food for thought on the flight home from Chicago, with Larmour’s explosive performance and Beirne’s brilliance pushing them even more strongly into contention for the Pumas and All Blacks Tests.

Subscribe to our new podcast, Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42, here:

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel