Wednesday 13 December 2017

Pressure all on Earls to fill void

The ill-advised decision to list Brian O'Driscoll's blog about his rehabilitation on the IRFU website from Tuesday was another example of how the Irish are forever looking over their shoulders when they should be looking forward.

It is a given that all those interested in the game on this island would like to know how our captain is coming along. And that he will be back. Fair enough.

To air O'Driscoll's blog the day before Keith Earls was announced as the Ireland outside centre was a gross dereliction of duty. The Limerick man has enough on his plate.

In many respects, this jersey is the one no one wants.

Certainly, Earls was clear in his stated preference for the wing slot before the World Cup. It just adds pressure on pressure.

The selection comes with the heavy burden of following in the footsteps of a giant of the game and the never-ending question: when will he be back?

Ireland have to deal in the here and the now. Wales are a formidable force with a chunk more time to dedicate themselves to a game plan that will do to Ireland on Sunday what it did in the World Cup quarter-final.

Happily, Ireland coach Declan Kidney and captain Paul O'Connell have spoken more about what they can do to fix their own shortcomings rather than dwelling too long on Wales.

The all-singing, all-dancing, all-out attack will be partly shelved for a pragmatic heads-up approach. If there is space, they will take it.

"There will be time to go wide and there will be time to play up the guts.

"What you need is the wisdom to know when to use which one," said Kidney.

Kidney cited the advantages of "co-ordination and familiarity" that Wales hold from their extra time at the World Cup and the two-week camp they had over Christmas.

Sadly, the injury jinx that has hit Wales removes a fair chunk of the intrigue surrounding this fixture.

They are definitely without their engine room of Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris, hooker Matthew Rees and loose-head Gethin Jenkins.

There are also doubts about a number of their key players, Rhys Priestland, Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate, to mention three. The delayed team announcement on Friday at lunchtime is a long way from Sunday afternoon.

The Welsh depletion in stocks takes some of the fizz out of the fixture.

Ireland should be able to shake off the heartache of Wellington in October giving their supporters what they want to see -- a win.

Ireland v Wales,

The Aviva Stadium, Sunday 3.0

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, G D'Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), S Ferris, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

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