Ireland defeated the USA 55-19 on Saturday in a game that taught both teams something about what they have for the future.
Playing at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ before over 22,000 fans, the Eagles started some relatively untested players, especially in the backline, and piecing things together early was difficult. Ireland, too, was largely young and untested but had clearly spent more time together. Ireland wing Keith Earls gave the USA all kinds of problems, busting through the line and connecting with a variety of support runners to set up snappy attacking movements and tries.
Working a fairly simple and direct game plan, the Irish played it in tight and sent it wide to score three tries in the first 20 minutes.
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The Eagles continued to work hard on defense, and, as often happens in these sorts of games, the veterans started to make things happen. In this case, lock Nick Civetta, a University of Notre Dame product who is now a pro at the Newcastle Falcons, blocked an Irish clearance kick and chased the ball down to score the try.
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Ireland replied with a maul for a try and some good support work from Marmion for another score.
The second half saw some more experienced subs come in for the USA and a little better cohesion. The players also started to play with the physicality and aggression needed in the breakdown. Ireland's power over the ball and at the point of contact was just better. The men in green met tacklers and kept moving forward more regularly than the men in white. The Eagles put some periods of phases together, but making those phases produce territory gains was difficult.
Still they had their moments. John Quill powered over after yet another blocked kick for the USA's second try to make it 36-14. Then a good sequence by the Eagles put Ryan Matyas over through traffic in the corner.
But Ireland punished penalties and turnovers too quickly, and the USA's execution at the lineout -- still its first-phase bread and butter -- needed to be better.
Breaks by Mike Te'o and Quill fell short as the Eagles needed a little more polish to connect. And Ireland exploited penalties and dropped balls with precision.
For the USA, some of the newer players realized that it's not just about effort but also remaining mentally clued in so you don't stare at the ball so much you drift out of your lane -- and every tackle is a war.
Ireland replied with a break from Earls to set up debutant James Ryan for his first Ireland try, and then a couple of soft ones finished it off at 55-19.
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Those tries were ones the USA should not have given up, but they were also a result of the fact that while Ireland has been together as a team for only a week, it's been playing in the same system all season long. The Irish's familiarity with coach Joe Schmidt's approach and each other, as well as what's required at the professional and international level, was evident.
1. Ben Tarr 2. Peter Malcolm 3. Chris Baumann 4. Nate Brakeley 5. Nic Civetta 6. John Quill 7. Tony Lamborn 8. David Tameilau 9. Nate Augspurger (C) 10. AJ MacGinty 11. Martin Iosefo 12. Marcel Brache 13. Ryan Matyas 14. Mike Te'o 15. Ben CimaMen's Eagles | Reserves 16. James Hilterbrand 17. Joe Taufete'e 18. Paddy Ryan 19. Matthew Jensen 20. Andrew Durutalo 21. Shaun Davies 22. Will Magie 23. Bryce Campbell
1. Cian Healy 2. Niall Scannell 3. John Ryan 4. Quinn Roux 5. Devin Toner 6. Rhys Ruddock (C) 7. Josh van der Flier 8. Jack Conan 9. Kieran Marmion 10. Joey Carbery 11. Jacob Stockdale 12. Luke Marshall 13. Garry Ringrose 14. Keith Earls 15. Tiernan O'HalloranIreland | Reserves 16. Dave Heffernan 17. David Kilcoyne 18. Andrew Porter 19. James Ryan 20. Dan Leavy 21. Luke McGrath 22. Rory Scannell 23. Simon Zebo
USA 19Tries: Civetta, Quill, Matyas
Convs: McGinty 2
Ireland 55Tries: Earls, Marshall, Marmion 2, Scannell, Conan, Ryan, McGrath, Zebo
Convs: Carbery 5