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'International rugby can’t wait for you. It makes you start fast'

Keith Earls feels Ireland need to find more composure with their attack.

Keith Earls returned to the Ireland team last weekend on London.
Keith Earls returned to the Ireland team last weekend on London.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

TRANSITIONS CAN BE difficult, particularly when a change in coach happens at the same time as a turnover in players.

But Test rugby is an unforgiving place that has no time for accomodating those trying to find their feet. Mistakes that were glossed over in Pro14 or even Champions Cup rugby suddenly result in the opposition scoring. Errors often decide the biggest games.

So while the experienced Keith Earls insists he is excited about where Ireland’s squad is going under new boss Andy Farrell and with plenty of new faces, he points out that there is a need for everyone to learn quickly.

“There’s a lot of new lads but having said that there’s a lot of talented lads as well and international rugby can’t wait for you,” said Earls ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Georgia.

“It makes you start fast and you have to just try and survive. We’ve had a mixed bag of results. A good win against Italy, that loss against France was again about small margins. It’s just down to ourselves.

“I think once we clean up our own game and we start taking our opportunities, and we are creating opportunities, but it’s probably that last pass, or we’re a small bit too flat, and it’s killing us at the moment.

“But look, there’s plenty of positives as well. There are fellas getting used to each other. With Johnny [Sexton] being out injured as well, his experience, Jamison [Gibson-Park], Ross [Byrne], Billy [Burns], Marms [Kieran Marmion] coming in, they’re all getting the hang of each other as well. So plenty of positives.”

Earls hopes Ireland can be calmer in the big moments than they were last weekend in Twickenham, where Farrell’s men were beaten 18-7 by England but missed chances, including a major one on the back of the wing’s big linebreak in the first half.

“It was kind of off the cuff – a good offload from Jamison and the blinkers went on and the head was down,” said Earls. “But yeah look, that was an opportunity that we probably panicked in ourselves as well.

irelands-keith-earls Earls made a big linebreak last weekend that should have produced a try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We spoke about being calm when we get into them green zones and there’s an opportunity to score, and we took the wrong option. And as I said before, it’s the small things that will get you a win at international level. That’s something we panicked with and we got turned over, so the momentum changed again.

“It’s the one or two passes or picking the right option or being too flat or too deep: just these small things that people might not see on TV that are stopping us putting a lot of points on teams. If we execute those we will be in a very good place.

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“Fellas just want to do well. They’re not anxious but they just want to do well. Maybe apprehensive about things rather than just being relaxed and backing their skills or their foot speed when they have the ball and teams are coming at you.

“A lot of teams are playing linespeed now and we just have to hold our depth a small bit. There’s a lot of stuff in that. Once we get one or two breaks, we will kick on from there and we will get the confidence up.”

Given his age and 86 caps of Test experience, Earls is obviously in the ‘senior player’ category with this Ireland squad and one of its key leaders.

However, he says he has been enthused to see younger members of the backline taking responsibility in this sense.

“Jacob [Stockdale] is really stepping up to the mark in the back three as well and becoming a leader,” said Earls. “I know he is only around a couple of years but he is starting to find himself and speak a lot.

keith-earls Earls is the most experienced head in Ireland's back three. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It actually really surprised me with Hugo [Keenan] when he came in. He is all over his work and very intelligent. It feels like he has been here for years and it feels like he is constantly thinking about the game and constantly asking questions.

“Obviously, [Andrew] Conway has been around for a while as well. Lowey [James Lowe] has a couple of caps but he has won big games with Leinster.

“So you might not think it but there is a lot of experience in that back three and in the backline in general with the centres we have as well. I’m not under too much pressure being the old fella!”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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