Pres­sure on Car­bery and McGrath to step up

There’s plenty at stake for play­ers on both sides in unique Soldier Field set­ting

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Gerry Thorn­ley Rugby Cor­re­spon­dent, in Chicago

Ire­land re­turn to the scene of, ar­guably, their great­est one-off tri­umph two years ago when they beat the All Blacks for the first time.

It fol­lowed the Chicago Cubs’ his­toric World Se­ries win and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump the fol­low­ing week.

There’s lit­tle point in kid­ding our­selves that to­day’s triple header car­ries any­thing like the same mag­ni­tude but it is what it is, and the meet­ing of two ex­per­i­men­tal line-ups car­ries its own intrigue.

Ire­land hav­ing made ten changes form their last out­ing, and Italy 13 from theirs, it’s also a hard game to truly an­a­lyse or fore­cast.

There are few cer­tain­ties be­fore a sports en­counter, but there are more un­knowns and rel­a­tive un­knowns in this one than nor­mal.

Not­ing Italy’s 6-2 split on the bench, Sch­midt said: “They’re ob­vi­ously com­ing locked and fully loaded to be phys­i­cal. You wouldn’t ex­pect any­thing else but it will be a real con­test.”

In ad­di­tion to a win, there are other key com­po­nent parts to this Novem­ber opener which would make for a good day at the of­fice. Sch­midt be­gan by sin­gling out the half-backs of Luke McGrath and Joey Car­bery.

“A re­ally pos­i­tive day would be a con­tin­u­a­tion of Joey’s de­vel­op­ment, and a re­ally smooth co­he­sion be­tween Luke and Joey, and then be­yond a re­ally solid set-piece day, be­cause I think it’s a lit­tle bit eas­ier for Luke and Joey if we get a re­ally solid set­piece and if our ruck work is good, be­cause the bet­ter the plat­forms it will just be a lit­tle bit eas­ier for those guys to get ev­ery­one else un­der way.

Way back

“Then on the back of that, those back three guys get as many in­volve­ments as pos­si­ble.

“An­drew Con­way is mad keen to get in­volved. Ja­cob Stock­dale missed a bit of the sea­son and I think he’s just on his way back to hit­ting some form, and Jor­dan Lar­mour he came off the bench in the Six Na­tions and showed an in­cred­i­ble bit of foot­work,” said Sch­midt, though he noted that his pass led to a turnover and he was burned by Mat­teo Mi­nozzi, which was a poin­ter to “get­ting his bal­ance and tim­ing de­fen­sively”.

“There are all sorts of op­por­tu­ni­ties for guys to get a bit of learn­ing out of it, and that’s prob­a­bly what I’m look­ing for in the coach­ing group, and prob­a­bly more than a score. I’d never try to pick a score any­way be­cause you just don’t know how the game is go­ing un­fold.

“But with Nigel there, he’s keen to get de­cent tempo to the game so hope­fully that’s what we get and peo­ple get a good game.”

There’s cer­tainly a neat sense of sym­me­try in Car­bery be­ing Ire­land’s start­ing out­half to­day, two years on from that de­but cameo against the All Blacks and now two days on from his 23rd birth­day.

Mar­shalling such a rel­a­tively cal­low col­lec­tion of backs all week and from the start is ar­guably just as big a chal­lenge.

On a day given added poignancy by the prospect of Ian McKin­ley win­ning his fourth cap for Italy, and against Ire­land, this will also mark full Test de­buts for Jor­dan Lar­mour and Tadhg Beirne, as well as first caps for Ross Byrne and Will Ad­di­son off the bench, and a third start for the young bull An­drew Porter, who must be strain­ing at the leash in the shadow of Tadhg Fur­long.

On the day Ire­land were beat­ing the All Blacks, Porter was mak­ing his first Le­in­ster start, iron­i­cally in a 33-10 win away to Ze­bre.

“It was a small crowd, lash­ing rain, cold day in Ze­bre that day,” he re­called on Thurs­day. “I just re­mem­ber watch­ing the Chicago game on TV and it was crazy, like, just see­ing a few of my mates be a part of it.

Spe­cial oc­ca­sion

“I re­mem­ber Joey at the time, I would have played a lot of my un­der­age rugby with him so to see him there and after the game, it was ob­vi­ously such a spe­cial oc­ca­sion for him and for Ir­ish rugby as well.”

It’s a mea­sure of the 22-year-old’s progress as a tight­head prop that he was a loose­head that day.

“Ah yeah, I’ve kind of ex­ceeded a few of my own ex­pec­ta­tions over the last few years. I can’t re­ally say I would have ex­pected to be where I am now in that short space of time, es­pe­cially mov­ing over from loose­head – where I would have been playing at that time two years ago – to the other side of the scrum.

“I have to kind of pinch my­self now. Ob­vi­ously it’s a big step up to Test level. I hon­estly couldn’t tell you what I was hop­ing for back then, I was just tak­ing it in short strides. Yeah, it was kind of crazy how things snow­balled so quickly, over the past year es­pe­cially.

“I think it was last March or some­thing I re­mem­ber some­one say­ing it was six months ago since my first game at tight­head for UCD or some­thing like that. It’s been pretty crazy look­ing back on that.”

It does seem a bit odd that this highly man­u­fac­tured meet­ing comes on the same week­end as a full Pro14 pro­gramme in which Ul­ster make the trek to Tre­viso.

This Ir­ish team has, as usual, a core of eight Le­in­ster play­ers in the start­ing XV, and 11 in the match-day 23, while the Ital­ian team fea­tures eight Benet­ton play­ers, with a fur­ther four on the bench.

Vir­tu­ally all were ex­cused duty from last week’s Pro14 clash be­tween Benet­ton and Le­in­ster in Sta­dio Monigo, yet the lat­ter’s 31-3 win looks like a rea­son­able barom­e­ter for this meet­ing.

Unique flavour

True, this has a unique flavour to it, but it’s also worth bear­ing in mind that Ire­land have won 23 of the last 24 meet­ings be­tween the sides.

This is as much about tal­ented Test play­ers with big fu­tures mak­ing state­ments in the here and now, and that goes for the Az­zurri as well, but any­thing less than a rel­a­tively com­mand­ing Ir­ish win would be a dis­ap­point­ment.


Ire­land’s Joey Car­bery gets in some kick­ing prac­tice dur­ing the team’s s cap­tain’s run at Soldier Field, Chicago yes­ter­day.

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