Date: Sunday, September 11, 2011
Time: 7am BST/6pm NZST
Venue: Stadium Taranaki, New Plymouth
Referee: Craig Joubert (RSA)
Ireland may be hot favourites to win this one, but there is still plenty of intrigue surrounding the tie with it falling on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USA coach Eddie O’Sullivan having had the Irish job during their disastrous 2007 campaign, and of course Declan Kidney’s men desperately needing a win to kick off the tournament after a poor showing in the warm-up matches. With bigger fish to fry down the line, Ireland will want to wrap up the four pool points early and do everything they can to protect key players from injury.
Practically a full strength side for Ireland, with the most notable exception being the young Munster scrum-half Conor Murray making his first ever start for his country at full test level. The famed O’Driscoll/D’Arcy centre pairing is reunited and they will certainly expect a better display, both with the ball and without, than they showed against France in Dublin a few weeks ago. In the pack, Cian Healy’s eye injury rules him out so Tom Court comes into the scrum on the loose head side.
The Americans haven’t played a Six or Tri-Nations side since June 2009 when the lost 48-15 to Wales. They also went through August without a win having dropped two against Canada and one against Japan. Although the amount of Heineken Cup/Super Rugby experience in their squad is increasing with every World Cup, you have to assume the only real thing going for them in this tie is the fact their coach both knows much of the opposing squad well and will be highly motivated to thwart them.
What to expect:
I expect the USA to do everything they can to make this a physical battle in the forwards. Ireland will thus be walking something of a tightrope between matching their physicality and getting on the wrong side of referee Craig Joubert – penalties have hurt them in the past. I also expect, or at least sincerely hope, that Ireland display a lot more adventure with the ball through the back line that they have in recent outings.
All eyes on: Jonathan Sexton
Provided he gets quick ball, Sexton will need to settle into his comfort zone from the off. He almost single-handedly won the Heineken Cup for Leinster this year with perfect execution of moves like the “wraparound” and he needs to get his fellow Irish backs clicking again. A perfect outing for him will see his fellow fly-half Ronan O’Gara being brought on with 20 minutes to go to bring the match home – then you can be pretty sure he’ll be starting against the Wallabies the following week.
Though the Americans are likely to opt for phases and high kicks, they’d be mad to ignore the blinding pace of the Biarritz winger…anyone who saw YouTube clips of his tries including the sprint down the length of the touchline against the Ospreys a couple of years ago will attest to this. Geordan Murphy may have been able to catch Manu Tuilagi in Dublin, but this guy is a completely different prospect altogether!
Head to Head: Shane Jennings v Todd Clever
The American captain will no doubt lead from the front when it comes to getting tough at the breakdown. Shane Jennings will have his work cut out to not only stop him, but also prove that he belongs in this squad since he was only added as a last minute replacement for David Wallace. How well the Leinster flanker does will be demonstrated by how soon Denis Leamy is called from the bench.
Last fixture: Ireland have played 6 full tests against the USA and won all six. Their last meeting was a 27-10 win in Santa Clara in 2009.
Weather: Forecast for New Plymouth on Sunday evening is rain showers with a max temp of 13C.
Prediction: I can’t see Ireland romping home, but I can’t see them losing either. I say they’ll win by 14 and be happy with it.
By JL Pagano