Holland insists Earls should be wearing Ireland No.13 shirt instead of O’Driscoll
MUNSTER assistant coach Jason Holland believes Keith Earls should be wearing the Ireland No 13 shirt -- and not Brian O'Driscoll.
The 38-year-old Kiwi -- who was a regular fixture in Declan Kidney's Munster midfield during his tenure in charge -- reckons the Irish captain is not as sharp as he used to be and would be more effective in the No 12 position, with Earls one place outside him at second centre.
The pair have played together in midfield just once before, against Wales last March when Earls scored two tries after he switched from the wing to centre following Gordon D'Arcy's injury-enforced departure.
D'Arcy and O'Driscoll have been the preferred centre paring since then, however, and while O'Driscoll has started and finished each of Ireland's three games this autumn, Earls has amassed just 38 minutes as a substitute winger.
O'Driscoll is set to win his 107th cap for Ireland against Argentina on Sunday and, for all his 105 starts, he has worn the No 13 jersey.
His one replacement appearance came in a World Cup qualifier win over Romania in 1999, when Jonathan Bell started at 13.
With Kidney set to name his starting XV at lunchtime today, Holland believes it's high time Ireland's most successful player moved over in order to make room for the younger man.
"There are a couple of things I'm very surprised about," said Holland, "but hopefully Earlsy will start to get a run of games now.
"I know we stick up for our own (Munster) boys, but I can say, hand on heart, that if I were picking the side, I'd have Earlsy in my starting XV.
"I would be tempted to push Drico in one and play Earlsy at 13. I just think he gives a sharp acceleration at 13.
"With all the skills he's got, O'Driscoll maybe isn't quite as sharp as he used to be, but I reckon he could put Earls in some real space."
The Kiwi also believes Ronan O'Gara is worth a place in the starting XV and Johne Murphy too
He freely accepts that his vision may be slightly impaired by his red-tinted glasses, but even allowing for his provincial bias, he thinks Murphy, a huge success since he joined Munster from the Leicester Tigers, is too good to be overlooked.
"I can't speak highly enough of what he's done in terms of attitude and what he does on the field," he said. "Every week that goes by my respect for Johne grows and I just wish that some of the national selectors could be around him day in, day out so that they could see what he's got to offer.
"I think he's very close to being involved in the national side and he would be if I was picking the side.
"But it's easy to sit back and pick someone else's team," he added. "I know that from other people picking the Munster team."