Tuesday 16 January 2018

Keith Earls drawing inspiration from Irish football teams and history-seeking under-20s

It has been an amazing week for Irish sport
It has been an amazing week for Irish sport

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Port Elizabeth

Keith Earls says the rugby team can draw inspiration from the exploits of the footballers of Ireland and Northern Ireland in France and the U-20s in Manchester ahead of their final Test against South Africa .

The Munster winger watched Martin O’Neill’s men secure a place in the last 16 of the European Championships at Ireland’s base in Port Elizabeth last night and he and the squad have been kept fully up to date with the Irish invasion of France as the Republic joined Northern Ireland in the knock-out stages.

They are also cheering on Nigel Carolan’s Ireland U-20 side who play hosts England in the World Cup final on Saturday evening, hours after Earls and his team-mates go for a historic series win over the Springboks at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

And Earls might have trouble making himself heard during the game after getting behind the Boys in Green.

“I’ve a pain in my throat from shouting at the TV last night when (Robbie) Brady scored his goal,” Earls said.

“We’re getting videos from family and friends and people who were in Paris and just the Irish people in general.

“The U-20s, they’re flying out with massive a win against New Zealand and now they’re going onto the final against England so for a small country, we’re a really proud country and you know it doesn’t matter what we’re playing, everybody gets behind us.

“You can feel that from home, the messages you can feel it everywhere, you can see it on the TV with the soccer and the U-20s support. It’s been great.”

Earls was rested for the second Test defeat in Johannesburg and is relishing another go at the ‘Boks in the series decider.

“I’m ready to go and looking forward to hopefully a good 80 minutes under my belt and hopefully make a bit of history,” he said.

The Munster star paid tribute to Eoin Reddan who will retire at full-time of Saturday’s final Test.

“He’s a really competitive man,” he said of his fellow Limerickman.

“He had a phenomenal work-rate. He was always pushing others to get to the standards that he played with and played in.

“At times, when he came off the bench, you could the intensity going up and that’s what he brings. He just gives it everything.

“You could see at times when he’s sucking diesel but he’s so experienced, even when he’s sucking diesel he can get the basics done really well and get a backline going.”

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was also full of praise for the scrum-half who has been named among the replacements for the first time on this tour.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with Eoin for the last six years, he’s been a part of the leadership group through those six years either in Leinster or in the Irish set-up, the brings a real intelligence to the game and a real competitive edge as well,” Schmidt, who worked with Reddan at Leinster and Ireland said.

“His ability to get the basics there right have allowed him to be incredibly efficient as a scrum-half and that’s what you want when you’re in a pivotal position like that and his intelligence around the game, his ability to be driving the forwards, respected by the forwards has been really beneficial.

“It’s something that the teams around him have benefited from for the six years that I’ve been involved with him and obviously prior to that, where he had real success with Wasps and with Ireland before I was involved.”

Schmidt has made six changes to his team for the final Test against the Springboks, with Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw ruled out with injury.

That means Tiernan O’Halloran makes his first start for Ireland, while Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall pair up in the centre as Keith Earls comes on to the wing.

CJ Stander’s return from suspension sees Iain Henderson revert to second-row, while Jordi Murphy joins the South African born blindside and Jamie Heaslip in the back-row. Mike Ross comes into the front-row after sitting out the second Test.

Reddan is on the bench alongside Matt Healy who can win his first cap.

Despite this being the last match of a long season, Schmidt is confident his side can produce a strong performance.

“I’m utterly confident that they’ll make me and themselves proud,” he said.

“They’ll make sure that Ireland feel proud of them because that’s the way they commit to going about their work and I’ve no doubt that they’ll be no different than it has been in the last two Tests.

“Yes, it’s been a long season, people are tired and that’s going to maybe detract from people being at the their optimum but, at the same time, I don’t think too many people will detect that because what they don’t have in fresh reserves of energy, they’ll make up for in the full commitment they make to doing the job that they do.”

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