Ireland turn to Earls to fill BOD void
February 1, 2012
Keith Earls will hope to have reason to celebrate come Sunday © Getty Images
Ireland have turned to Keith Earls to fill the void left by the injured Brian O'Driscoll for their clash with Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
O'Driscoll has been ruled out of the entire championship after undergoing shoulder surgery, leaving a void in the position he has filled with such distinction since 1999. The task of filling some of the biggest boots in world rugby has fallen to Earls, the Munster and Lions back who has scored 11 tries in 26 Test appearances.
Earls has played at outside centre for his province in recent weeks and head coach Declan Kidney felt he was the leading candidate to replace O'Driscoll. "Keith trained really well last week and it was on that basis that we made the decision," said Kidney. "He's looking forward to it and obviously has played very well there for Munster. All players can adapt. He's played a lot in the position and is comfortable there. Keith has been playing very strongly in the Heineken Cup."
The 24-year-old's selection in a position O'Driscoll has occupied with such distinction since 1999 comes just days after his partner Edel McGee gave birth to their baby girl, Ella-Maye. He returns to the Irish camp tonight after playing only a limited role in training for the past week.
Kidney, however, is keen to keep a sense of perspective over the occasion. "There's a lot of things happening for Keith at the moment and he's buzzing," he said. "It's extenuating circumstances and whereas he wasn't the one to have the child, it's still a big day for any man, so we've tried to give him a bit of space.
"We must remember these guys are people first and players second. When something like this happens in your life it's only right that you're given some space. If it's your first you're inclined to take a day or two to enjoy it. Maybe if it's your fifth or sixth you wouldn't be taking the day off! Life is like that sometimes - you just have to go with the flow."
The in-form Andrew Trimble has been selected on the left wing with Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray the preferred half-backs. Sexton has edged out the more experienced Ronan O'Gara, who must settle for a spot among the replacements. In total there are only three changes, one positional, to the side defeated 22-10 by Wales in their World Cup quarter-final.
The pack is identical to the eight that suffered heartache in Wellington with Donncha O'Callaghan holding off the challenge of Donnacha Ryan in the second row. The only Test debutant in the 22 is Munster back row Peter O'Mahony, who features on the bench.
Kidney is sure to be criticised for what will be perceived by some as a conservative selection, but retains faith in his established internationals. "I respect everybody's view. This team is everybody's team, people talk about who should and who shouldn't be playing," he said. "Players need to work their way into the team. All the guys picked have worked hard to get into the team.
"We had a disappointing match on our last day out, but one bad game doesn't make you a bad team. Wales played very well that day and if we play the same way on the Sunday then it will be the same result. Wales are a very good side - you don't get to the World Cup semi-finals if you're not. Listening to all the noises they making, they're purring at the moment."
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Donnacha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell (c), Stephen Ferris, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Fergus McFadden
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