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Experimental Ireland to face Italy in Chicago

02 November 2018 10:12 AM
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Chicago - Ireland return to the scene of one of their greatest victories here 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 flanker Rhys Ruddock will captain the side in the absence of British and Irish Lions hooker Best, packing down alongside provincial team-mates 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 have 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 Autumn 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 are 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.


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