This may have been Ireland’s biggest win over the USA in 13 years and the fourth largest in history, but coach Joe Schmidt knows it is difficult to assess the impact of so many young players against a side operating at a notch or two below them.
USA 19 Ireland 55
The strength of the talent backing up the frontline players will probably become more apparent in two slugfests against the Japanese over the next fortnight.
On Saturday evening a matchday squad which included five debutants and another 11 with caps in single figures still had enough firepower to outscore their hosts by nine tries to three.
Three of last year’s U20 side which reached the World Championship final — captain James Ryan, prop Andrew Porter of Leinster and Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale — made their debuts in the blistering heat at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, along with centre Rory Scannell of Munster and Connacht hooker Dave Heffernan.
Three more — Ulster lock Kieran Treadwell, scrum-half John Cooney, formerly of Leinster and Connacht but now bound for Ulster, along with Leinster wing Rory O’Loughlin — will hope to get their chance to shine in Japan.
But Schmidt said the likes of Saturday’s game can be difficult to assess emerging players.
“It’s always really hard to judge, to calculate the level of performance because the context is hard to judge. The context atmospherically was really tough.
"They were well and truly fatigued at half-time. Their jerseys were dripping with perspiration and the ball was very slippy. For some players who came on in the second half, the conditions were a bit more difficult, players were tired and we probably weren’t as sharp as we were at stages of the first half.”
James Ryan, whose only recent action after an injury-ravaged season was in a cameo role for a Munster development side against the Irish U20s, took less than 60 seconds to announce his arrival with a try after good work by the superb Keith Earls.
Ryan, who has now joined Brian O’Driscoll in that small club of players who have been capped for Ireland before playing for Leinster has been tipped for greatness biut Schmidt, unsurprisingly, isn’t going to add to the hype.
“You never want to make too many outrageous predictions for young players. We just wanted him to get away, to learn from the experienced players we do have. But we felt he’d measure up and he measured up.”
One young kid who didn’t push on from his earlier showing was Joey Carbery in his first start, albeit not helped by being constantly, and perhaps not always legally, being targeted on the release.
He missed three conversions, had two kicks blocked down for tries and then limped off with an ankle injury on an evening when he made his first start for Ireland.
Earls was the one who showed everyone how to do it, scoring two tries himself and was the key figure in three others, sending Stockdale away for a debut try, then setting up Kieran Marmion for his second Irish score, before handing Ryan an unforgettable debut.
Carbery, of course, can struggle for game-time at out-half in Leinster given the presence of Jonathan Sexton and Ross Byrne, but Schmidt insisted it’s not up to him to advise Leinster on who to select in any position.
“Leinster make their own decisions regarding selection and on the back of that we try to mix and match as best we can. It is hard for him to get time at Leinster because he is a natural player and because Johnny is there and Ross Byrne has emerged as a really good player.
“They were two very different kicks (which resulted in the blockdowns), one was an attacking kick, one was a clearing kick.
“The first option was superb, the space was there, he just took too long. Looking at the replay it’s just the fingertips of the guy (that blocked it),” added Schmidt.
The magic of Earls provided the finishing power to the work being done elsewhere by the likes of Garry Ringrose and Tiernan O’Halloran, and the prospect of a shock first defeat in nine games against the Americans was buried by the end of the opening quarter when Ireland led 17-0 before the hosts rallied for their opening score, but Ireland still led 29-7 at the break.
Jack Conan pushed that out with a 44th minute try before ex-Dolphin player John Quill — another Corkman Paddy Ryan also made his bow for the Eagles off the bench — blocked Carbery to score and Ryan Matyas followed with another to leave it 36-19 going into the final quarter.
But James Ryan’s immediate impact off the bench eased any worries and Luke McGrath and Simon Zebo also crossed to complete the rout.
Scorers for USA:
Tries: N Civetta, J Quill, R Matyas Conversions: AJ MacGinty(2).
Scorers for Ireland:
Tries: K Earls (2), J Stockdale, N Scannell, K Marmion, J Conan, James Ryan, L McGrath, S Zebo; Conversions: J Carbery (2), G Ringrose (1), R Scannell (2).
B Cima; M Te’o, R Matyas, M Brache, M Iosefo; AJ MacGinty, N Augspurger; B Tarr, P Malcolm, C Baumann; N Bradeley, N Civetta; J Quill, T Lamborn, D Tameilau.
Replacements for USA:
W Magie for Brache (28-36 HIA), J Hilterbrand for Malcolm (h-t), J Taufete’e for Tarr (h-t), M Jensen for Lamborn (h-t), P Ryan for Baumann (46), A Durutalo for Civetta (46), S Davies for Augspurger (51), W Magie for Iosefo (51), B Campbell for Cima (61).
T O’Halloran; K Earls, G Ringrose, L Marshall, J Stockdale; J Carbery, K Marmion; C Healy, N Scannell, John Ryan; Q Roux, D Toner; R Ruddock (c), J van der Flier, J Conan.
R Scannell for Stockdale (h-t), D Heffernan for N Scannell (51), D Kilcoyne for Healy (51), A Porter for J Ryan (51), S Zebo for Carbery (51), L McGrath for Marmion (61), James Ryan for Roux (61), D Leavy for van der Flier (70), J Stockdale for O’Halloran (72).
L Pearce (England).
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