A preview of Ireland’s shadow squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup could be on show when it tackles the United States on Saturday at Lansdowne Road.
There’s eight uncapped players — four of them starters — in a young and powerful lineup that coach Andy Farrell has high hopes for.
“It’s lovely as a coach to give people their first caps or a first start but coming into an international squad can be pretty daunting,” he said.
“You have been so used to one way of playing and it is so ingrained in you in how you play for your province. Now all of a sudden, you have new calls, new teammates, and it can be difficult to go about your work within six or seven days to perform at your best. It takes time to be able to get really good at that so I’m looking to see whether the newcomers can deliver for the team.
“We want to calm them down and focus on the detail of what we want to get right as a team.”
Get it right, and Ireland could impress against an Eagles side that grew competitive against England last weekend in a 43-29 loss.
All four new Irish starters are from Ulster. Prop Tom O’Toole and flanker Nick Timoney are in what appears to be a mobile pack, and center James Hume and wing Robert Baloucoune have a keen eye for the most direct route to the tryline.
There are also first international starts for lock Ryan Baird, No. 8 Gavin Coombes and scrumhalf Craig Casey.
Ireland beat Japan 39-31 last weekend without at least 15 senior players and Farrell loves the depth of the squad, but he wants it to be more competitive.
“Growing competition is the key,” Farrell said. “If we have got five or six players in each position that are really, really competing against each other, then the World Cup (squad) two years from now will start looking after itself.”
The United States promoted hooker Joe Taufete’e, flanker Hanco Germishuys and wing Christian Dyer to starters from the reserves. They were replaced by Kapeli Pifeleti, uncapped flanker Andrew Guerra, and 26-cap fullback Will Magie, flown over this week after Will Hooley, a late withdrawal before the England game, failed a head assessment and returned home.
Hooley’s game stand-in, Marcel Brache, also failed a head assessment and was replaced by Mike Te’o.
“We need to keep building on our basics and enjoy the opportunity to learn from teams who play in this environment regularly,” coach Gary Gold said.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Andrew Conway, Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Gavin Coombes, Nick Timoney, Caelan Doris, James Ryan (captain), Ryan Baird, Tom O’Toole, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne. Reserves: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Fineen Wycherley, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Harry Byrne, Will Addison.
United States: Mike Te’o, Christian Dyer, Calvin Whiting, Bryce Campbell (captain), Mika Kruse, Luke Carty, Ruben de Haas; Cam Dolan, Riekert Hattingh, Hanco Germishuys, Nick Civetta, Gregory Peterson, Paul Mullen, Joe Taufete’e, David Ainu’u. Reserves: Kapeli Pifeleti, Matt Harmon, Dino Waldren, Nate Brakeley, Psalm Wooching, Andrew Guerra, Michael Baska, Will Magie.