Tainton hints at Earls taking centre stage for Wales clash
Published 01/02/2012 | 05:00
And so the guessing games continue. While last week Declan Kidney almost went as far as to include Mike Gibson and Uncle Tom Cobleigh in his list of candidates to fill Brian O'Driscoll's boots, naturally the selection debate has narrowed by this stage.
"We're down to about 13 candidates now," joked Mark Tainton, the Irish kicking coach whose added responsibility this week will be to ensure the new outside-centre gels sufficiently well with his team-mates.
All the signs suggest Keith Earls will transfer his provincial audition into the international arena for Sunday's World Cup rematch against Wales. Tainton all but admitted so.
"It's been narrowed down to who is in camp and we've obviously a fair idea who that is going to be," he says. "Whoever plays 13 will be playing on merit. He just needs our total faith in his ability to fulfil that role.
"Whoever it is will have been playing in that position this season for his province or his club so he doesn't need to be doing anything different to what he's been doing. The step up is going to be there, we all know that, but he doesn't need to try to be something that he's not able to be."
Earls it is then, given his consistently regular appearances at centre for his province this season; Leinster's duo have flitted too intermittently between central roles thus far, while Tommy Bowe hasn't played there at all.
Familiar opponents present themselves this week but hopefully not, for Ireland's sake at least, familiar portents, given what happened last time out against Wales in Wellington.
Conor Murray, who will presumably start alongside Jonny Sexton, senses there is a different mood in the camp. That would seem encouraging were it not for the fact that he is not entirely sure what that difference is.
"There's a good buzz about the place," he enthuses. "We're all getting on well, like we were in New Zealand. Everyone is having a bit of fun and there's a good atmosphere.
"The Welsh game in Wellington was a bit weird. I don't know if we approached it wrongly or anything but it certainly feels different this time.
"There's a lot of talk about revenge. Obviously it will be in the back of some people's minds and some might use it as a motivation factor. For me it's a new start. You can't dwell too much on the past.
"You'd be lying if you said you didn't think about it, if you weren't hurt by what happened in Wellington. We were bitterly disappointed with the way we played. Wales were better but we had high hopes. We've more to worry about. We can't look back. It's a new game, a new competition. There's going to be a new good game plan. There'll be new players in the team."
Talk of a new game plan alights on Tainton and Les Kiss, with both diluting core responsibilities and adding new ones this term.
The Bristol man declares Ireland will retain the approach that ultimately failed to deliver at the World Cup, perhaps quelling speculation that Ireland would err on the side of caution ahead of a fortnight that will define their season.
"It fell short in Wellington but we've reviewed that and moved on," he insists. "We're trying to develop more options for the players. If you go through the game in Wellington we created an awful lot of opportunities we didn't finish. We're looking at putting players in positions where they can make decisions during the game and hopefully finish off this time.
"I don't think we'll be restrictive. We've a good idea of how we want to play this game, what Wales' strengths and weaknesses are. I don't think they have many weaknesses.
"We're not going to go into our shell. We need to hammer this game out and play a bit more expansively and open up opportunities for players in every position."
He doesn't foresee any difficulties in the nascent partnership with Kiss.
"Les and I have always worked closely together when he was in defence, as was the case with Alan Gaffney in attack. So it's just enhancing that and working as a team to bring the backline together to give them opportunities. There's been no game as yet but so far it's going well."
Meanwhile, the injury update on Luke Fitzgerald proved vague, with the Irish medics hopeful he can be available for selection within the next week or two, albeit with the rather critical proviso that they have no definitive time-frame for his recovery.
Irish supporters will hope that the much anticipated game plan provides a little more certainty.