Friday 15 December 2017

Eager tourists should clip Eagles' wings

Much focus will be on Blackrock boy AJ MacGinty. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Much focus will be on Blackrock boy AJ MacGinty. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If the US back three are unclear about what's coming their way this evening (10.0pm Irish time) then it won't take long to put a picture on it.

For wings Ryan Matyas and Mike Te'o, and full-back Ben Cima, they will have to deal with a fair amount coming out of the sky. Conor Murray may be on duty elsewhere but the policy of making life awkward for opponents by bombing them won't change.

Mostly Ireland will expect to be able to get the upper hand through sheer intensity. Part of the problem with being a Tier 2 nation is that you don't often get to dine at the same table as the Tier 1s. It's like boarding school where those with sharp elbows eat best. Of America's last 10 Tests, only one of them was against Tier 1 opposition. And that was Italy this time last year, which they lost.

And they are short players - the key losses being Samu Manoa and Todd Clever up front. The latter may not be universally popular but he's an effective lump and they could have done with him here. Their front-row of Ben Tarr, Peter Malcolm and Chris Bauman will struggle, and when Ireland's set-piece is good - as it has been all season - then the team usually plays well.

Ireland should have a clear technical advantage over the Eagles' front-row but sometimes referees get in the way. So Cian Healy needs to do enough damage to convince referee Luke Pearce that it's a clear case of him being dominant through legal means.

Given how Jamie Heaslip was missed in Leinster's Guinness Pro12 semi-final defeat by Scarlets, it would be timely for Jack Conan to lead from the front today against an Eagles back-row that will look to do damage.

Much focus will be on Blackrock boy AJ MacGinty, earning his 12th cap but his first against his own country. It will be of comfort that he's on US soil against a weakened Irish side but he can expect to be under pressure.

The worry for Joe Schmidt is what might happen if early injuries crop up and the team loses its shape in the face of a spirited onslaught. That aside, Ireland should have something to spare.

Verdict: Ireland

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