Irish rugby is on a high after last week’s result. I’m not sure how many people truly expected to beat the All Blacks in Ireland for the first time last Saturday evening and how many were just being optimistic but I certainly called it wrong.
I don’t like being wrong very often but I’m more than happy to concede this one!
The funny thing about rugby is that the highs don’t last very long. This feeling may last a little bit longer because most of the team that was involved are off this weekend, meaning they would have been able to enjoy a few more pints last weekend and reflect on Saturday without having to be overly focused on the week ahead.
Ireland clearly had their homework done against the All Blacks with a number of variations in attack. Joe Schmidt has brought a level to this team that most of us haven’t seen before. The trick play that saw Garry Ringrose switch direction out the back of a forward pod was new to me.
Sometimes a team will have a variation but you can recognise it from other teams and normally it was the All Blacks themselves that ran it or someone in the Southern Hemisphere. Ireland are suddenly becoming one of the teams leading the way with innovative ideas on both sides of the ball.
Andy Farrell deserves some credit too for the way he set this defence up. He's the only northern hemisphere defence coach since the mid-90s to keep the All Blacks try-less in a game, and he’s done it twice. But Farrell will know that he didn’t do it on his own.
Pete O’ Mahony stretching to snatch that ball in the second half springs to mind and the shots that were put in on Brodie Retallick by Rory Best and James Ryan definitely hurt the former world player of the year, judging by his facial expressions.
James Ryan is a different animal in defence. Any time you see a big hit close to a ruck, you know the kind of ones where the camera moves on from it before you see who got up, it’s more than likely James Ryan. I’ve often rewound the match to see who made the hit and James Ryan seems to be the culprit more often than not.
Schmidt has only retained seven players from the squad that beat the All Blacks including two starters in Garry Ringrose and Josh Van Der Flier. Ringrose is the only one to retain his starting position which probably highlights his importance to the team and the need to get him more international minutes this year.
A lot of the team that is selected wouldn’t have been out of place against the All Blacks and were probably right to feel hard done by not to be given the nod.
Rhys Ruddock is captaining the side for the second time this month but couldn’t make the match day squad against the All Blacks, even with a couple of injuries in the back row. It shows the strength that this Irish side has now compared to years gone by.
The second row partnership of Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne are going to be out to prove a point too, which one of them will be calling the lineout is out of my rugby scope but both will want to take on that mantle.
There’s some serious power in the back five. It’s probably missing a bit of balance that the back row had over the last few weeks in that there’s no out and out openside flanker but Tadhg Beirne is one of Ireland’s best fetchers at the moment so I’d expect him to be given a bit more freedom in targeting the breakdown.
Personally, it’s great to see some of the Munster lads back involved. I can’t hide my bias towards wanting to see Darren Sweetnam on the Irish wing but I’m equally excited about seeing more of Will Addison. He seems to be very fluent when he’s on the ball and easy to watch.
The combination of handling and footwork against Argentina was impressive for a guy on debut, he wasn’t short of confidence and has a presence about him too.
This weekend it will be tough for some of this Irish squad to get their head around another test match against USA. After the highs of winning against the best in the world this fixture is set up to be somewhat of an anti-climax but it's up to this group of players to set their standards and put their own mark on the Irish jersey. They shouldn’t need much motivation in a world cup year.
Two former teammates of mine will be lining out for the Eagles with Paul Mullen hoping to anchor their scrum at tighthead and John Quill operating in the back row. Both players have worn Munster jerseys at one stage or another so that will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.
USA won’t have enough firepower to cause this Irish side any real trouble but we’ll be looking for the home side to run up a bit of a score to finish off a highly successful and developmental tour for a nation that is gathering momentum at just the right time.
Follow Ireland v USA via our liveblog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app, watch live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player or listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 this Saturday (kick-off 6.30pm).