Thursday 18 January 2018

David Wallace: Keith Earls surely can't be ignored by Ireland

Great to see him back to his brilliant best after long injury

Keith Earls
Keith Earls
Munster's Donnacha Ryan and Billy Holland contest a lineout during squad training

David Wallace

It was a great weekend of rugby all round with wins for Munster and Ireland but it's another big fixture for the province away to Ospreys tomorrow.

A win there would cap off a fantastic week. I was up at the Aviva for the Ireland game and they were impressive against England.

Ireland eased to the win and Joe Schmidt's tactics were top-notch as always but when you think of how settled the line-up is, it's refreshing especially considering the depth that is there.

That is the way you want it to be with Ireland - you want it to be ridiculously hard to get in because it just pushes on the standards.

You have guys like Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls breathing down Jared Payne's neck.

The same goes for the other positions, Jordi Murphy had a massive game stepping in for Jamie Heaslip and there are other guys raising their hands behind him.

It's great to have that but Sean O'Brien will hopefully come back because he needs every bit of rugby he can get.

But Tommy O'Donnell did well even though he was thrown into the firing line again. That is what you have to do when you are replacement but he did it very well; he carried impressively and was up there in the tackle count.

But apart from the individuals the thing is that Ireland are playing as a team, no matter what combinations are put in there from game to game.

Just for example, England might make a couple of breaks in a game but when someone like Anthony Watson runs half the field, doesn't have support and gets swallowed up and subsequently turned in the tackle, it is no use to Stuart Lancaster. Other teams such as England may have better ball-carriers than we do but it's about the collective and we demolished them where it counts and that showed on the scoreboard.

Ireland are on a great run at the moment. They beat France and Argentina twice, Australia and South Africa during the November series and even the English game they lost last year was only in Twickenham by three points.

Ireland learned so much from their loss to New Zealand 15 months ago - people say you learn more from a defeat than a victory and Ireland are a testament to that.

Control

The game plan is centred on control - if you look at the first ten minutes of the England game they controlled it with their kicking game.

They were retaining possession as well, going into rucks to turn guys over and you see the likes of Simon Zebo impressing.

He has been an example of what Schmidt can do. Zebo was given a few work-ons and he has responded using the advice to further his game and fit into the system seamlessly.

The Munster contingent are performing for Ireland and it will be great to see what happens when they fit back into the Munster set-up because Anthony Foley has Munster on a roll.

Like Ireland, they gave another professional display last weekend and did what was necessary to get the win over a big rival in the Pro12.

Against Glasgow it was a strong team from No 1 to 15 and everyone performed admirably - in the backs Denis Hurley and Keith Earls worked off each other fantastically.

Earls is really putting his hand up for an international call-up. Some of his breaks were phenomenal against Glasgow and that flick for the try was class.

He is running off a guy like Hurley who always gets his hands free and can throw wonderful inside balls that his team-mates love.

Duncan Williams and JJ Hanrahan are also revelling under the current game plan. Munster have played like this since they trounced Sale in Europe and it's an exhibition of offloading at times. Duncan loves that fast-paced stuff - it allows him to get in the positions where he can provide the flicks to the guys running through and more often than not JJ is nearby. He had a great game against Glasgow and his confidence is sky high when given the opportunity.

The pack was solid. John Ryan showed the depth at loosehead is arguably the best it has been.

He was class at the weekend - then you have the experience of Donncha O'Callaghan and Billy Holland behind him with Jack O'Donoghue getting another try and CJ Stander looking like he is back in form.

Irish Independent

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