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'I looked up at the clock and couldn't believe there was only 12 minutes gone'

Keith Earls stopped to talk about the ‘bizarre’ opening period that ended up deciding yesterday’s World Cup quarter-final.

Sean Farrell reports from Cardiff

KEITH EARLS MANAGED to sum the whole thing up in his opening few succinct sentences.

It probably didn’t matter what he was asked as he wandered towards the underground exit of the stadium, and indeed the World Cup, in a haze.

“It’s devastating to be heading home.

Britain Rugby WCup Ireland Argentina Source: Christophe Ena

“A lot of guys put their body on the line. A good win against France last week, we were in a good place, we got a couple of injuries but there was still a good vibe around the place.

“We were confident coming in, but it’s not easy when you give a team a 17 point lead in 15 minutes.”

Out of the light and into the darkness of the Millennium Stadium, it was as if Irish pupils weren’t able to adjust in time. Argentina, half a world away from home, out-numbered in the stadium, but too hot to handle in conditions we thought ideal for this Ireland outfit.

“It was bizarre,” says Earls of the game-defining opening quarter.
I was looking up at the clock at one stage and I couldn’t believe there was only 12 minutes gone.”

The moment Earls describes is probably the break in play brought about by yet another injury to a regular Irish starter. On top of Jared Payne (whose injury allowed Earls step into the 13 shirt), Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Jonathan Sexton: Tommy Bowe was down and in need of a stretcher after an apparent knee ligament injury.

Men like O’Connell, O’Mahony and indeed the banned Sean O’Brien are not as easily replaceable as the camp tried to make us believe this week. And the captain’s presence in the squad and cheering from the stand wasn’t enough to fire Ireland off the line.

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“It was great to  have him around,” Earls says of a man he will probably never play alongside again.

“He’s a tremendous person – never mind a rugby player – as a person, he’s unbelievable and it was great to have him around.”

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2015 - Quarter Final - Ireland v Argentina - Millennium Stadium Source: Mike Egerton

The O’Connell era is now over for Ireland, and he won’t be around when the squad are put back in the classroom to examine exactly where they went wrong. But again, Earls is able to hit the nail on the head.

“It’s a bit of a blur to me now. When we have a look back at it we’ll see a couple of things that cost us.

“Our defence was a bit off in the first half and they got around us a few times.

“They’re big men, strong men. At times it took two to put them down, it shortened our line and they hit us out wide. Good gameplan. They like to throw the ball around and sucking in our defenders.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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