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Dublin: 6°C Sunday 28 February 2021
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No concern over Earls' knee as winger hits top speed in training

Andy Farrell wants Ireland to produce a performance ‘we’re proud of’ against Wales.

Earls is set for his first appearance of this World Cup period.
Earls is set for his first appearance of this World Cup period.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WITH THE SEATS on the plane now filled and Joe Schmidt deploying a near full-strength team for Saturday’s final warm-up outing, this now very much feels like the start of the World Cup in earnest. The start of the serious business.

Given there are just three weeks until that Yokohama showdown with Scotland — a campaign-defining game if ever there was one — Ireland now have no time for error and need to hit the right gear against Wales in Schmidt’s final home game in charge.

The return of Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw is a timely boost as the trio make their first appearances of this World Cup period, while Cian Healy’s selection at loosehead is most welcome after his recent ankle scare.

Although the result will count for nothing in the grand scheme of things, it is vitally important Ireland build momentum, cohesion and confidence before boarding the flight to Japan early next week. 

Having won two and lost one of their three summer series outings so far, this is as close to full-strength as Ireland have been in pre-season, with the inclusion of Jacob Stockdale, Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson potentially the only changes Schmidt would make at this juncture for Scotland. 

“It is our last game before we get on the plane on Wednesday,” defence coach Andy Farrell says. “We’re after a performance that we’re proud of.

“There’s an extra reason for that, Rory’s last game at the Aviva, and Joe’s as well.

“The important thing is we put the performance in, the cohesive performance and the right mental attitude to take forward into two weeks and the start of the World Cup against Scotland.

“What is important is that, yes, we’re down to 31 but there’s still massive competition for places for who takes to the field in that first game. Everyone wants to be involved in that and the guys that take to the field on Saturday, they’re in the shop window to put their best foot forward for a start in the first World Cup game.”

With Wales coming to Dublin fully locked and loaded, the Grand Slam winners will pose a very live threat to Ireland, with this Test match serving as the ideal pre-cursor to what is to come in Japan.

andy-farrell Defence coach Andy Farrell during today's press conference. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Having held back Sexton, Henshaw and Earls in the first three games, Schmidt will be hoping his big hitters can slot back in seamlessly and hit the ground running, with all eyes on Ireland’s out-half in particular as he reforms his half-back partnership with Conor Murray.

“They’re raring to go, they’ve been held back for at least a week or two, can’t wait to get going this weekend,” said Farrell at Carton House this afternoon.

“It has brought us closer together [the squad being named]. Why? Because the team has been picked. The wait is over. You already see ownership in little groups, in different silos.

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“You see that taking place and the cohesiveness throughout the group is of a much higher standard.”

As for Earls, who had been managed by the Ireland medical team due to tendonitis in his knee, there is no concern over the Munster winger’s fitness heading into his first game of the season.

“He’s fine,” Farrell added. “Keith hit his highest speed score today in training as he was going to score a try in the corner which delighted us all.”

The defence coach, who will take over from Schmidt post-World Cup, also confirmed there are no new injuries to the 31 in camp, with Joey Carbery continuing his ankle rehab.

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Ryan Bailey

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