Keith Earls is more than happy to call the shots for the Irish backline. ©INPHO/James Crombie
Grudge match

'I'm sure we're going to hop off each other at the weekend' - Keith Earls

Replacing the world-class Brian O’Driscoll may prove impossible but a starring role against Argentina won’t go astray.

KEITH EARLS HAS faced Argentina in a full international on one occasion, in 2010, when Ireland beat the Pumas 29-9 and Gordon D’Arcy even got in on the scoring fun.

Two years previous, as a 21-year-old, he was on the bench as backline cover in a game Ireland had to win to stay in the second tier of the world rankings.

Ronan O’Gara kept the visitors at arm’s length that day before Tommy Bowe burst free for the killer try.

If it all seemed a touch too easy, Earls had plenty of old hands around to tell him horror stories about dark days when Argentina were the victors and Irish dreams were shattered.

Bowe, D’Arcy and O’Gara are still in the Ireland squad so they may be placed on duty for bedtime stories in case the young members of the squad, like Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo, get any ideas about winning at the Aviva on Saturday without a fight.

“We’ll just focus on ourselves,” told ”We’ll leave that for Axel [Foley] and all his grudge matches against them, and D’Arce and ROG.

“For a lot of us, this is only our second or third time, and first for some lads, to play Argentina. It’s another international game.

“We’re two passionate countries and I’m sure we’re going to hop off each other at the weekend.”

Let’s get physical

Should Earls retain the 13 jersey that he wore against the Springboks on 10 November, it will just his third game in seven weeks having sustained a groin injury in Munster’s Pro12 loss to Leinster.

He credits the province’s strength and conditioning coach Aled Waters, who arrived from Super Rugby’s Brumbies in the off-season, for adding ‘a small bit of bulk’ to his frame and Foley for giving him pointers on his defence. He said:

I knew I could always defend. It was just getting confidence in tackling bigger men and watching these men on telly when I was younger and seeing them bash each other. I was like ‘Would I be able to do that?’

The Limerick native was defensively solid against the ‘Boks but guilty of trying to force the play in attack.

On one occasion he bypassed Simon Zebo, supporting outside his right, and tried to find Tommy Bowe with an ambitious pass that was accurate in neither trajectory nor timing.

Does he feel the pressure to step in and replicate the play of Brian O’Driscoll, a man he describes as ‘in my eyes, the best centre in the world’?

“There is obviously going to be a small bit of pressure to step up but Brian is Brian,” he said. “There is never going to be another Brian O’Driscoll.

“I just want to be myself and add something to the jersey. He’ll be hanging around for a while yet but there’s a few of us, Darren Cave and the boys, hoping to take that opportunity.”

Waking up in bits

Earls admits that the squad looked at the ranking lists at the beginning of the week but the must-win formula predicted by many before the Guinness Series kicked off has not changed.

He said, “We all knew this was a cup final when we came in on the Monday. If we win the game we finish in the top eight rankings and it’s a good draw for us.” Earls added:

We’re used to that now. We’ve all been in semi-finals and finals in the last couple of years in the Heineken Cup. It’s bigger than what it could have been. It’s a massive game for us.”

The Pumas look set to continue the centre partnership of Gonzalo Tiesi and Marcelo Bosch and, not for the first time, Earls’ ability to hold his own in the midfield will be scrutinised.

He commented, “I remember saying to my father [former Munster player Ger Earls] last year in the Six Nations – I think there were 17 tackles in a game that I had to make and my shoulders were hanging off me. There’s no better feeling than that.

“My Dad said he used to love it himself; waking up Sunday morning in bits. You know you’ve went through the mill for your team.”

November tests: Sexton misses training but back row set to stay intact

Explainer: why Ireland must beat Argentina (and what happens if they don’t)

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