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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 21 January 2021
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Plight of Keith Earls: The man who would be BO'D is now playing back-up to Kearney

The Munster winger was identified as O’Driscoll’s heir apparent but is being shunted around the Irish backline.

Earls has appeared four times for at full-back in the green jersey.
Earls has appeared four times for at full-back in the green jersey.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

THE MOST LIKELY outcome from announcing a 29-man squad is that debates soon rage over who should have been number 30.

Declan Kidney would have been well within his rights to select two batches of 15 players and ensure each position had suitable back-up.

By naming 29 players to travel to New Zealand to face the All Blacks, the door was left ajar and suggestions have drifted in.

There may have been justifiable calls for the inclusion of players such as Craig Gilroy and Mike McCarthy but a glaring omission has been made in the full-back department.

Rob Kearney took the ERC Player of the Year last week and it was well-deserved. However, he is entering the eleventh month of his season and will travel south with no specialist full-back for company.

Everyman Earls

Irish team manager Michael Kearney confirmed to TheScore.ie last Friday that Keith Earls will provide cover for the full-back position during the three-Test tour.

Earls made his debut for Ireland, in 2008, at full-back against Canada.

He made two further, substitute appearances in the role before starting at 15 in March 2011 against England when Kearney was injured.

Earls may be a useful outside centre and an exceptionally talented winger but he is hardly the cover that Ireland supporters would hope for should injury or fatigue befall Kearney.

Kidney was surely planning on including Felix Jones, before his season was, once again, cut short by injury.

Nonetheless, the Irish coach saw fit to pass up on the claims of Ulster’s Adam D’Arcy and Gavin Duffy, who enjoyed a fine season with Connacht.

Geordan Murphy had stated in the past that he was available if called upon by his country but a cross-channel call was never made and the old-stager retired.

Backline pinball

Earls has been included at 15 for Tuesday evening’s clash with the Barbarians in Gloucester.

With Brian O’Driscoll back in action, it is likely that Earls will reclaim his posting on the left wing when Ireland take to the pitch at Eden Park on 9 June.

The move will continue a trend that has not seen the 24-year-old start in the same position for five consecutive games when he wears the green jersey.

He was highlighted, by Kidney, as the player in ‘pole position’ to take over from O’Driscoll when he eventually retires but will now be talked up as the country’s best winger.

And, if Kearney is unable to feature three weeks in succession, we will be told of his uncanny abilities as a full-back.

Earls, it seems, is suffering for his versatility.

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