Preview: Ireland v USA

Date published: September 10 2011

Ireland have an ideal platform upon which to banish their nightmare of 2007 when they take on the USA in New Plymouth on Sunday.

Ireland have an ideal platform upon which to banish their nightmare of World Cup 2007 when they face the USA in New Plymouth on Sunday.

Four years ago it was when they almost fell to Georgia, which followed an under-par effort against Namibia. Dark days for Eddie O'Sullivan.

Speaking of which – and as things have a habit of working out – O'Sullivan is now the boss of USA and quietly purring ahead of facing his old team.

His successor, Declan Kidney, is about as unlikable as ice cream on a red hot day though, so there shouldn't and hasn't been any bad blood.

Kidney did bring something refreshing to the Irish line-up this week though, as 22-year-old Conor Murray gets in over Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan.

“Conor's been going well in training and we said we'd judge it off that. If we're to know more about him, now's the time to know,” said coach Kidney.

“He deserves a go and we think he's good enough to start. It's a big call given it's our first game in the World Cup, but what he's been doing merits his inclusion.”

Murray will be partnered by Jonathan Sexton at fly-half, with Ronan O'Gara named on the replacements bench. There is no Sean O'Brien though, who has been the best of Ireland's recent bad bunch in the warm-ups. His spot goes to Shane Jennings, with Stephen Ferris continued his comeback from injury.

USA coach O'Sullivan meanwhile has named Mike MacDonald – who will become their most-capped player on Sunday – in the first line-up of the 2011 showpiece.

McDonald will represent the Eagles for the 63rd time on Sunday, surpassing the record previously held by Luke Gross. The prop, together with Paul Emerick, will also equal the record of eight Rugby World Cup appearances, currently held by Alec Parker.

O'Sullivan has made eight changes to the team that lost to Japan in their final warm-up clash. In the back-line, Taku Ngwenya is in for Kevin Swiryn on the wing while Andrew Suniula replaces Tai Enosa in the centre, with Paul Emerick moving one over to 13.

Patrick Danahy is the only back-row survivor from the Japan clash, with JJ Gagiano and Louis Stanfill replaced by Nic Johnson and skipper Todd Clever respectively. At lock, John van der Giessen replaces Scott LaValla who has to make do with a spot on the bench.

USA lost twice to Canada in their warm-ups so in theory the Irish should have no trouble. But this is Ireland, this is a World Cup, this is against O'Sullivan. Upset on the cards?

Players to watch:

For Ireland: What a huge opportunity this game is for Conor Murray. If you would have said that name a year ago, we would bet our bottom US dollar that only Munster fans would know much about the young scrum-half. But here he is, starting in Ireland's RWC opener ahead of Eoin Reddan. Pinch yourself.

For USA: Those who watched him during his time in South Africa for the Lions will know that Todd Clever is no mug. The flank will give everything for 80 minutes and carry until he cannot carry anymore. His performance could be a good gauge as to how close the Eagle come to ruffling Irish feathers.

Head-to-head: One hopes the ball gets to see plenty of air – but in a good way – on Sunday. If so, the midfield battle between Brian O'Driscoll, Gordan D'Arcy, Paul Emerick and Andrew Suniula could play a big role in how this pans out. In three of their four warm-up games, Ireland failed to cross for a five-pointer so this is the ideal opportunity to right some wrongs in New Plymouth. I quite like the match-up on the wings too with pace to burn.

Previous results:

2009: Ireland won 27-10 in Santa Clara
2004: Ireland won 55-6 at Lansdowne Road
2000: Ireland won 83-3 in Manchester
1999: Ireland won 53-8 at Lansdowne Road
1996: Ireland won 25-18 in Atlanta
1994: Ireland won 26-15 at Lansdowne Road

Prediction: Green-shirted fans should be worried, but Ireland will pull away by 20!

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordan D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Andrew Trimble.

USA: 15 Blaine Scully, 14 Taku Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever (capt), 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Shawn Pittman, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Replacements: 16 Chris Biller, 17 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz, 21 Nese Malifa, 22 Colin Hawley.

Date: Sunday, September 11
Venue: New Plymouth
Kick-off: 18:00 (06:00 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)