Preview: Ireland v Italy
NOVEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Ireland return to the scene of one of their greatest victories on Saturday, as the Six Nations champions face Italy at Chicago’s Soldier Field in a one-off Test.
Two years ago, a full-strength Irish side stunned New Zealand in a thrilling battle at the home of the Chicago Bears, claiming Ireland’s first and only victory over the All Blacks with a 40-29 win.
A lower-key contest is on the cards this weekend, however, with Ireland coach Joe Schmidt electing to run the rule over his squad depth with an experimental line-up.
Loosehead prop Jack McGrath is the only member of the team which started the 2016 win over the All Blacks who will line up to face the Azzurri on Saturday.
Only five members of the starting XV from Ireland’s historic series win over Australia this year have been selected.
Schmidt has granted a rest to several of his first choice regulars, with the likes of Johnny Sexton, Rory Best, Peter O’Mahony, Rob Kearney and Keith Earls all staying at home.
With scrumhalf Conor Murray also missing through injury, it means the Irish will be fielding an unfamiliar line-up.
Sexton’s absence means a start for Joey Carbery at flyhalf, where the 23-year-old will partner Luke McGrath at scrumhalf.
Among the five veterans of this year’s Test series win over the Wallabies are centres Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose.
Leinster flank Rhys Ruddock will captain the side in the absence of British and Irish Lions hooker Best, packing down alongside provincial teammates Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier.
Ruddock captained Ireland during their tour of North America and Japan in 2017.
“Rhys has had some real frustrations with injury,” said Schmidt.
“He was really impressive during the Guinness Series last November and led the team superbly in Japan the summer before that.
“He is a workaholic on the pitch and prepares incredibly well off it, so he’s an ideal leader in the absence of Rory, Pete and Johnny.”
Ireland will return to Dublin following the Test to face matches against Argentina, New Zealand and the United States through November.
Italy meanwhile has named just three members of the XV thrashed 56-19 by Ireland in this year’s Six Nations Championship.
Conor O’Shea’s team will return to Italy for a Test against Georgia on November 10 before closing their year-end campaign with daunting back-to-back Tests against Australia and New Zealand.
O’Shea said his new-look line-up had been focusing on developing a harder mental edge during practice this week.
“On Saturday we have a great challenge against the number two team in the world,” O’Shea said. “We’ve worked a lot on the mental level earlier this week.
“We know Ireland is one of the strongest teams in world rugby. Our group has got a lot of young players who want to emerge — games like these ones are an opportunity for players to step up,” he added.
Players to watch
For Ireland: Given the experimental nature of the team, you may want to watch all the players. However, the most significant positions are at halfback – flyhalf Joey Carbery and scrumhalf Luke McGrath in the place of two of the legends of the game. Among the forwards you can, with great excitement, keep an eye on flank Josh van der Flier.
For Italy: Also a very experimental side, with the only survivors from the Azzurri’s last Test – a 25-22 victory over Japan in their international at the Noevir Stadium in Kobe in June – are outside centre Michele Campagnaro, who will captain the side in the absence of regular skipper Sergio Parisse, and tighthead prop Tiziano Pasquali.
Head to head: In the midfield, Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki (Ireland) look to have the qualities that will test Michele Campagnaro and his Italian centre partner Luca Morisi. Perhaps the biggest test will be in the set pieces – and particularly the scrums – where Andrew Porter, Niall Scannell and Jack McGrath (Ireland) square up to Tiziano Pasquali, Luca Bigi and Nicola Quaglio (Italy).
2018: Ireland won 56-19, Dublin
2017: Ireland won 63-10, Rome
2016: Ireland won 58-15, Dublin
2015: Ireland won 16-9, London (World Cup pool match)
2015: Ireland won 26-3, Rome
2014: Ireland won 46-7, Dublin
2013: Italy won 22-15, Rome
2012: Ireland won 42-10, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 36-6, Dunedin (World Cup pool match)
2011: Ireland won 13-11, Rome
Prediction: This is far from Ireland’s best team, so Italy must be in with a realistic chance. However, Ireland still seems to have enough class to win by 12 points.
Ireland: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Will Addison.
Italy: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Michele Campagnaro (captain), 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Giulio Bisegni, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Rento Giammarioli, 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Johan Meyer, 5 George Fabio Biagi, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Jimmy Tuivatti, 22 Guglielmo Palazzani, 23 Ian McKinley.
Date: Saturday, November 3
Venue: Soldier Field, Chicago
Kick-off: 15.00 (20.00 UK & Ireland Time; 20.00 GMT; 21.00 Italy time)
Expected weather: Sun and some clouds. High of 12°C and low of 8°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: David Ardrey (USA)
AFP & @rugby365com