The Texan young guns
LES KISS has been delving into the record books and reckons his team to face the USA tomorrow night is the least capped to take the field for Ireland in 50 years.
With 29 caps, Mike Ross is the most experienced international in a side that contains debutants in Robbie Henshaw and Stuart Olding and first starts for Ian Madigan, Dave Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson.
The 15 starters have an average age of 25 and 119 international appearances between them, while the bench also has three new faces with Mike Sherry, Jamie Hagan and Tommy O'Donnell set to win their first caps as replacements in Houston.
Joe Schmidt flies in to Texas tonight and his arrival may see an alteration in the jovial mood that has surrounded the Ireland camp this week. Come kick-off, the new era will have begun.
The US Eagles may be no world-beaters, but Ireland's interim coach believes they scent blood here among the novices in green. Still, Kiss had no hesitation in leaving experienced campaigners like Kevin McLaughlin and Andrew Trimble out of the squad altogether, hinting that there could be wholesale changes next week when his side face Canada.
"We expect that they feel there is a chance for them," the Australian said of the Americans, who have picked all of their big guns for the game.
"We just have to be aware of that and we're not in a position with three or four minutes to go, thinking, 'what's hit us here'. We need to be on top of our game from the whistle, it will be a tough test.
"The tour was mainly an opportunity on two fronts; for players to learn about what it is like to prepare for Test matches and also to be involved in Test matches on the pitch. The other side of that is for the coaching staff to be informed about what they are capable of.
"That is the opportunity I've given this week, but it doesn't leave anyone out of the picture for next week. There's a great situation in the camp at the moment, we're not carrying any injuries and everyone's fit. So, it is just a case of giving those opportunities and probably bringing a bit more experience into our team next week."
As well as giving caps to potentially five players, Kiss confirmed that Madigan would get a first start at out-half as a reward for his excellent form this season with Leinster.
The 24-year-old is winning his third cap, but it is his first in the No 10 jersey and Kiss has spoken to the pivot about the need for patience at Test level.
"It was important that Ian did get a start in the Test jersey at No 10. He's had a fantastic year," the coach said. "In terms of going into this game, I'm not asking him to be a person who creates magic, I'm asking him to be a 10 who understands the role at Test level.
"I want him to be a good, solid, consistent performer and have the patience to understand that it will take him a little longer to express his little darts and his other skill sets.
"If he plays to the game plan and gets to the place we want, then those opportunities will come. If he's patient, he'll find those opportunities."
Madigan will have new man Olding (20) beside him, a player who started the season hoping to make the grade for the U-20 side and finds himself in a senior jersey after just 15 appearances for Ulster. He expects the 10-12 channel to be a target for the Eagles' big runners like Todd Clever and Samu Manoa.
"All of the midfield players have had good seasons in their own rights and really held their own against some bigger guys, internationals and even Lions," he said. "I've really enjoyed playing with Ian. It's gone really well, it's our first time working together."
Agreement was close to being reached last night on water breaks and it looks likely that the game will stop at 20 and 60 minutes to allow the players take on fluids, with temperatures expected to be at 30 degrees at kick-off.
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).