Simon Easterby urges Ireland's young players to seize chances to shine on tour
Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby has challenged his young players to show their potential ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
With 11 front-line Test players away on duty with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand and proven performers such as Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Sean Cronin recovering from injuries, Joe Schmidt selected a youthful 32-man squad for this month's tour.
Ireland face the United States in New Jersey on Saturday before taking in Tests against Japan in Shizuoka and Tokyo the following two weekends.
Schmidt has brought eight uncapped players on tour including promising 20-year-old lock James Ryan, who has yet to make a senior appearance for Leinster, and Easterby wants the youngsters to seize their chances to shine.
"These tours are great," he said. "They are a couple of years out from a World Cup and they offer the opportunity to develop some depth in the squad, develop the individuals, and expose them to a higher level of rugby, a high intensity.
"There is no doubt the United States will be very physical, a lot more physical than some of these players would have experienced in the past, and that will stand them in good stead going forward."
Ireland arrived in New York on Monday night and will be based in Jersey City on Manhattan's scenic waterfront this week.
Easterby has reported a "clean bill of health", with Andrew Porter, Ryan, Rory O'Loughlin, Dave Heffernan, Kieran Treadwell, John Cooney, Jacob Stockdale and Rory Scannell all poised to win their first Test caps.
The Irish coaching team will look to seasoned campaigners such as Devin Toner, Keith Earls and Cian Healy to guide the young squad through a challenging tour.
"There is a bit of inexperience," Easterby said.
"But there is the experience of Cian Healy and Devin Toner, particularly in the forwards. These tours were probably earmarked for a bit of that inexperience to come through and build our depth. We are two years out from a World Cup.
"This is a great starting point for a lot of these young players to get an opportunity to spend time with them, to invest some time in them but to get to know each other as well and see how they perform under a bit of pressure - a bit more pressure than some of them are used to."
This weekend's match will provide John Mitchell's Eagles with the perfect warm-up for their two-legged World Cup qualifier against Canada later this month.
"They play Canada after us," Easterby noted. "They will be desperate to put in a good performance to try and springboard their qualification into the two Canadian games.
"They have plenty of experience as well. Obviously we are well aware of AJ MacGinty at 10, from his time at Connacht and his time now at Sale. But Nate Augspurger, his half-back partner at nine, he's electric. He can play on the wing as well and he's a real threat. They have a lot of Sevens experience in the squad as well.
"They are a real threat if we give them those opportunities. Mike Te'o, Madison Hughes are both real quality individuals with ball in hand. As a forward pack under John Mitchell, they've developed a really strong driving game.
"They have a couple of front-rowers who are playing in the Aviva Premiership at the moment. From where they have come from, they have certainly got much more depth. They are a lot stronger than they were a few years ago and a real test for us."
The Lions' attritional 10-match schedule is sure to claim several casualties, and a number of players in the Ireland squad are prepared for possible calls to link up with Warren Gatland's squad in New Zealand.
The likes of Garry Ringrose, Simon Zebo and Josh van der Flier were unlucky to miss out on selection.
"There is always that opportunity," Easterby added.
"There are a number of players that are aware that they may be called out. That is the case with all summer tours. It is important that the players who aren't involved at the moment go and get a break.
"But there are plenty of players that need to carry a pair of boots and a gum-shield with them just in case they get called up."