Stand-in captain James Ryan says Ireland’s players are determined to sign off for the summer in style by producing their best performance of the season.
The Irish will complete an unprecedented campaign played entirely amid a global pandemic against the United States on Saturday evening in front of around 6,000 supporters in Dublin.
Andy Farrell’s men secured a series of third-placed finishes during 2020-21, with their finest display to date arguably coming in the 32-18 win over England on the final weekend of this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
Lock Ryan, who in the absence of rested skipper Johnny Sexton is leading a match-day squad containing eight uncapped players, has ambitions of scaling new heights against a team ranked 16th in the world.
“There is no reason why this can’t be the best performance of our season. That’s the way we’ve been talking about it all week,” he told the Irish Rugby Football Union.
“We can’t take a step backwards, we want to keep moving forwards.
“Obviously a number of new guys coming in but the focus has been on making sure that we deliver.
“We’re really looking forward to it. It’s a challenge for a number of guys, especially those making their new caps, that step up to Test rugby, but I think we’re in a good spot.
“They (USA) have got some good players but most of the week has been about us and getting our own stuff right and putting in a performance that hopefully the 6,000 people can be proud of.”
Ireland were forced to settle for third place in the prolonged 2020 Six Nations – which was completed in October – having been in title contention until the final game, before repeating that achievement in both the 2021 Championship and inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.
Fans returned to the Aviva Stadium last weekend for the first time since coronavirus restrictions were introduced, with around 3,000 in attendance for the 39-31 victory over Japan.
Uncapped Ulster players Tom O’Toole, Nick Timoney, Robert Baloucoune and James Hume have been given the nod to start this week, while international rookies Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Fineen Wycherley and Harry Byrne are among the replacements.
Leinster man Ryan is once again looking forward to the novelty of performing in front of a crowd and feels the presence of supporters will make the milestone occasion even more special for the raft of newcomers.
“It will be incredible. It’s such an opportunity for us,” he said.
“Even last week when we had 3,000 fans here it made such a difference for us, so to have double that this week will be incredible. The lads are all genuinely really looking forward to that.
“For guys that are making first caps tomorrow to have family, friends and some Irish supporters back in the stadium is brilliant.”