KEITH EARLS (right) looks likely to wear the Ireland No 13 jersey in Brian O'Driscoll's absence against South Africa and Declan Kidney has no qualms about playing the 25-year-old there.
The Moyross man's versatility has seen him line out in a host of positions for club and country, but it is on the wing that he has made most of an impact at international level.
He was in the running to play at full-back after Rob Kearney's back surgery, but news that O'Driscoll was also going under the knife to treat his ankle ligament injury earlier this week meant Kidney's options had shrunk and the Munster man was needed in the centre.
"Keith's preferred position is 13 but so was John Kelly's before him. The trouble is, Brian has wanted to play there for a long time himself.
"So lads will prefer to play anywhere rather than not be playing," the coach said.
"He has grown into 13. He likes the position.
"I think his overall experience that he has picked up over the last four years, has really matured him as a player. He's really contributing. He's like a junior senior player.
"His overall game, both his attack and defensive game (is improving), but also his contribution around the pitch," he continued.
"Because the amount of talk and direction that goes around the pitch is massive, sometimes -- by just saying the right things -- you cut off space because, not alone do you help the guy next to you, but you also put a little fear in the opposition's ear.
"That's one of the things that you don't get when you're watching it on TV, or from a distance, is the amount of conversation that happens out on the pitch.
"Keith, as a younger player, has actually filled in that fairly well and that's a help in defence and attack."
Meanwhile, defence coach Anthony Foley has admitted that newcomer Richardt Strauss faces a difficult task to learn all of Ireland's calls in time for his expected first cap against his native country.
As hooker, the Bloemfontein native -- who qualifies for Ireland on grounds of residency -- needs to get used to the line-out calls as well as the defensive and attacking systems before tomorrow week's clash.
"It's a massive challenge in itself," former Ireland captain Foley said yesterday.
"But Richardt isn't on his own there. All the time we have together, not only on the pitch but in the little meetings we have off the pitch, you are constantly being drip-fed information.
"Even me coming back into the squad, it is not about getting a lot of stuff chucked at you, it is about getting little bits of information," he added.
Foley is relishing being back among the international set-up. He deputised for forwards coach Gert Smal during last year's Six Nations and now is in charge of the defence for this month's games as he takes a short hiatus from his day job as Munster assistant coach.
And while he says there will be nothing revolutionary about the defence next week, it will be tweaked to match the opposition.
"It's unbelievable being back," he said.
"It is about understanding the position that we are in and the importance of the games coming up.
"It is a small bit different in the role, I'm in here to look after the defence and there is a pressure and excitement with that.
"The structure of the defence will remain the same and, when you look at the opposition we are coming up against, then there will be a certain amount of physicality that we need to look at and that is what we are going about doing."