'If we lose, we could lose our reputations'
IT'S life, Joe, just not as you know it. New faces and searing heat will greet Joe Schmidt as he wakes up in Houston for the first time this morning ahead of starting his tenure as Ireland coach.
He is hoping for few problems, although there is a feeling among the locals that Ireland are vulnerable after travelling without so many front-liners and recognised leaders. The presence of the new coach, though, should fire a proverbial rocket up the players' backsides at the home of the American space programme.
The squad toured NASA headquarters in a week that also saw them visit the Houston Texans' NFL pre-season training camp and take in some baseball.
While interim coach Les Kiss has maintained focus, the mood in the camp has been lightened by many youngsters. But there is a feeling that it will become deadly serious tonight as the players seek to impress Schmidt.
New out-half Ian Madigan knows Schmidt well from his time at Leinster. The 24-year-old has worked patiently under the New Zealander and finally gets his first start after a frustrating Six Nations in which he found it tough playing second fiddle to Paddy Jackson after Jonny Sexton was injured.
Having been given the nod ahead of the Ulster playmaker for tonight's clash, Madigan wants to make the most of his opportunity and he believes that Schmidt's presence will only be a good thing tonight for the young team.
"Joe is a really happy, positive guy and it's definitely improving the mood of the squad – not that it's bad, he just has a habit of making people smile," he said.
"If he sees that one of the younger lads is nervous, he'll crack a joke with them and make them feel like he's backing them.
"I've played for him for three years and I know what he wants. For the Munster, Ulster and Connacht players, it's different.
"Dave Kilcoyne has been asking me what he likes because he's keen to impress, so as a forward being a square carrier not running across the pitch, Joe really likes that. I told Dave that and he's delighted with that little nugget of information and that's the joy of it, we're all in it together."
Madigan has had to bide his time, and he wants to make an impression. He has had to be patient, even if it didn't always come naturally to him.
"I'm patient with certain stuff. Joe wouldn't think that I'm overly patient. He's said that sometimes I want things to have happened yesterday," he said.
"It was tough with selection during the Six Nations, with Paddy getting the starts ahead of me. But I just decided to focus on myself and just keep improving."
The hosts, he says, are under huge pressure to deliver a victory against an understrength Ireland and justify their place in the world game. Their players have graced the screens of Fox and CNN and the crowd is set to break records for a rugby game.
A nation doesn't quite expect, but the squad fancy their chances of a major scalp and a first win over Ireland.
"If they want to have any aspirations of doing well at the World Cup then they have to be able to beat teams like us on their home patch," said Madigan.
But for his own sake, as well as his country's, Madigan is determined to lead from the front to ensure Ireland emerge victorious.
"For that reason there's a different type of pressure on this game, there's reputations on the line.
"If we lose, the three main people who will take the brunt of it are myself, Peter O'Mahony and Les. I'd be more nervous on that side of things than against Australia or France, where if you're slightly off your game you could lose by 30 or 40 points – whereas if we're off our game here we could lose our reputations."
Madigan is shouldering the responsibility and that can only please his new coach as he prepares to tog out in 30-degree heat.
This game may be far from centre stage with everything going on in the sporting world, but the Schmidt era begins in Houston and Madigan is hoping that his time has come as well.
Verdict: Ireland by 10 points
USA – C Wyles; L Hume, S Kelly, A Suniula, T Ngwenya; T L'Estrange, M Petri; S Pittman, C Biller, E Fry; B Doyle, L Stanfill; S Manoa, S Lavalla, T Clever (capt). Reps: Z Fenoglio, N Wallace, P Thiel, P Dahl, J Quill, R Shaw, J Paterson, A Siddall.
IRELAND – R Henshaw (Connacht); F McFadden (Leinster), D Cave (Ulster), S Olding (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster); I Madigan (Leinster), I Boss (Leinster); D Kilcoyne (Munster), R Strauss (Leinster), M Ross (Leinster); M McCarthy (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster); I Henderson (Ulster), C Henry (Ulster), P O'Mahony (capt, Munster). Reps: M Sherry (Munster), J Hagan (London Irish), T Court (Ulster), D Tuohy (Ulster), T O'Donnell (Munster), P Marshall (Ulster), P Jackson (Ulster), F Jones (Munster).
Ref: F Pastrana (Argentina).
USA v Ireland,
Live, TG4, 1.30am