Joe Schmidt has announced the Ireland side that will take on Italy in Chicago’s Soldier Field on Saturday (KO 8pm UK/Irish time).
Will Addison is set to make his Irish debut from the bench while Jacob Stockdale is the only Ulster player involved in the starting team. John Cooney is the replacement scrum half for Ireland while Jordi Murphy is also listed on the bench.
Despite changes, the 23 is very strong. Jack McGrath, Niall Scannell and Andrew Porter complete a powerful front row while Tadhg Beirne and Quinn Roux make up the second row in the absence of James Ryan and Iain Henderson. The back row is a real strength for Ireland at the minute. Without Dan Leavy, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, and CJ Stander it’s still a very capable back row that will take the pitch on Saturday. Rhys Ruddock captains the side from blindside flanker while Josh van der Flier starts on the openside. Jack Conan is Ireland’s number eight.
Although enforced, it’s good to see an alternative to Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton in the half backs. I haven’t seen a lot of Luke McGrath this season, but I liked what he brought to Leinster in their double winning season. Joey Carbery on the other hand has flourished at Munster so here’s hoping he can carry his provincial form onto the international stage. It’s a familiar partnership of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose in midfield while Stockdale completes a very exciting back three along with Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway.
Addison occupies the 23 jersey and is one where I think he has a shot of making his own ahead of the Six Nations and subsequent World Cup. The other Ulster representation on the bench is Jordi Murphy and John Cooney. Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne and Connacht’s Finlay Bealham are the replacement props while Devin Toner brings a bit of experience. Ross Byrne is also set to make his first appearance for Ireland.
It’s Ireland’s first trip to Chicago since that night in 2016, and while Italy don’t have the quality as the All Blacks did, I’m still expecting them to put up a fight. Their side is split 12-10 in favour of Benetton Treviso – Ulster’s opposition on Saturday – over Zebre while Michele Campagnaro is the only other player from Wasps.
With the great Sergio Parisse now 34 years of age, Italy have to prepare for life after the Stade Francais player. However they may have found the perfect heir to the throne in Renato Giammarioli. The 23-year-old is a physical, but speedy, presence at the back of the Italian scrum, in a similar mould to Nick Timoney. The Zebre youngster is set to make his third cap for his country.
Likewise, I’ve been impressed by his club team mate Carlo Canna when he has taken the field for Zebre this season. Tommasso Allan was the first choice out-half during the Six Nations with Canna relegated to the bench, however now that Canna is starting, I expect Italy to place even more of a focus on attacking with the backs.
I think it’s an exciting Italian side. They’ve some good players such as the aforementioned Giammarioli and Canna as well as Mattia Bellini and Luca Sperandio in the back line. However, experience is lacking. Their captain, Michele Campagnaro, is their most experienced player with 34 caps and only player to have over 30 appearances. Six players in the starting lineup have ten caps or less while Guglielmo Palazzani is the only player to reach double figures on the replacements’ bench.
The FRU predicts: Ireland should pull away in the second half. I expect Italy to be competitive, but Joe Schmidt will have a rotated Irish side well drilled. Ireland by 25 points.