Saturday 20 January 2018

Earls can nail spot in World Cup side

Flier is back to his best and will add to Ireland bid for glory

Keith Earls
Keith Earls

David Wallace

Munster showed a lot of grit and determination last weekend to get one over on Connacht after having lost to them earlier in the year.

With no European action for Munster this weekend, I am sure they spent some extra time going through that game in the review room this week and they would have been delighted with what they saw.

Connacht seemed to make a lot of mistakes in the first-half when they still had a chance and it seemed to me that each time they won the ball back, they turned it over again straight away.

They just weren't clinical and I suppose you have to be nowadays - just look to the Six Nations as the gauge.

Certainly in the northern hemisphere it's all about your kicking and your exit game. When you have the ball you don't kick it away carelessly.

You can find yourself being out of a game because there's very little margin for error. You're going to see that creep into the Pro12 as well where teams are starting to focus on being a bit more clinical with their exit strategies where accuracy in the kicking game is so important.

But against Connacht it was great to see Munster get six tries and Keith Earls seemed to be relishing it out there as well.

He made a lovely little chip and break for Denis Hurley's try and then he got one himself - one he definitely deserved and Hurley repaid the favour later.

He showed serious gas coming through there and seems to just make those breaks with consummate ease and he's really on fire. Both he and Luke Fitzgerald are showing great form and they will both be pushing for inclusion when the World Cup comes around.

It's good to see Keith back in the running and hopefully he will get in for the warm-up games prior to the World Cup because he is such a talented and player and needs game time in the national team.

Simon Zebo was on top form against Connacht as well and for the try he got, very few players could have picked that ball up off their shoelaces and then score from there.

He wriggled and used every little bit of skill, body fight, strength and agility to get over the line ahead of Darragh Leader.

He does have that X-factor that no one else can bring to the game. And he's quite unassuming with regards to his strength and body fight after the tackle.

That part of his game is second to none. The way he is able to twist and wriggle out of a tackle, he surprises you.

Whenever I had to tackle him in training he would be so difficult to put down because even when he is tackled he keeps on fighting after the hit. He certainly doesn't just fold in the tackle and go to recycle.

Obviously getting the bonus point and scoring six tries was brilliant and you have to factor in the fact that there was a break in the Pro12 before that game.

Both sides were coming in off a three-week lull in game time so it would have been excusable for some sloppiness to creep in but in fairness from a Munster point of view it didn't.

But at the same time there are work-ons there for the management to look at. With Connacht loosehead Denis Buckley so prominent in the breakdown - I think he got four turnovers overall - I am sure Munster will be looking at that area of their game.

They would be a bit upset that they lost so much ball in the breakdown as well coming off the Six Nations where Ireland were so good in that area of the game especially against Scotland.

All of the pressure was on Munster at the weekend - with Ulster getting that big performance on Friday night Munster knew they needed to match them and they did just that with only points' difference separating the two teams now.

But both teams have very different run-ins - Ulster have Glasgow, Munster, Leinster and Connacht so it's the top half of the league really apart from Ospreys and then Munster will take on the opposite end.

Munster have what you would call a favourable run-in and looking at the table right now you would certainly back them to get a home semi-final.

Irish Independent

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