ALTHOUGH LAST SUNDAY was supposed to be a family day for Keith Earls, he had to cancel their plans and head back out to Ireland’s team base near Maynooth early that morning.
He spent his Sunday icing his hip non-stop.
“Those are the sacrifices you make,” says the 31-year-old with a brief smile.
Earls trained fully yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Earls suffered a hip pointer – essentially a bruise on top of the hip bone – in Ireland’s defeat to England on Saturday, an injury that forced him off at half-time.
“Everything kind of shut down around my hip and it was sore to run because it swelled out,” he explains. “They usually loosen out but it didn’t.
“I suppose it was the first time I stayed on injured and tried to run it off because I’m usually quite good at knowing my body and when to come off, so from that aspect I probably should have come off earlier.
“Half-time was probably the worst thing to happen because you’re sitting down for 10 or 15 minutes and it just got a bit sore. I went to do a run indoors just to test it and it was too sore so the physio and doctor called it.”
Earls suffered the injury underneath Owen Farrell’s hanging kick-off at the very start of the game, as Maro Itoje hammered into him in the first tackle of the contest.
The issue worsened in the 18th minute when Itoje illegally clattered into Earls underneath a high ball.
The England lock seemed uninterested in actually competing to win the aerial contest but Earls insists he has no frustrations with Itoje only being penalised and not yellow-carded.
“No, no, it was a collision,” says the Munster man. “I don’t know what he thought of it, whether he got his timing wrong or whatever. I had a look back at it and it does look bad but that’s not for me to say.
“It was just a big collision, he is a big man and I think if it had been anyone smaller I would have been alright.”
Itoje illegally clattered Earls. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO
Earls was also the recipient of an illegal tackle from Tom Curry, for which the England flanker was yellow-carded, and found himself underneath several other English kicks.
Did he feel he was being targeted?
“I’m not sure,” he answers. “There was a lot of pressure down my way alright with kicking. I don’t know, I suppose it worked for them anyway.”
Happily for Ireland, Earls trained fully yesterday and is on course to be fit for Saturday’s clash with Scotland, when he will hope to be part of a much-improved performance.
England scored their first try down Earls’ right wing, with Farrell’s sublime pass flashing across the Limerick man as he shot up on the edge of the defensive line.
Earls doesn’t hesitate in the slightest when asked for his view on that Jonny May score.
Click Here: South Sydney Rabbitohs jersey
“It was obviously 100% my fault. I got my numbers wrong on the edge. I didn’t see [Elliot] Daly out there, I thought it was [Jonny] May.
“I was going to go for the intercept but obviously Farrell’s pass is one of the best in the game and it beat me.
“I should definitely have just tucked if I had taken a look up. I should have tucked in with Conor [Murray].”
Source: Guinness Six Nations/YouTube
Murray was the defender just inside Earls as Farrell’s double skip pass flashed across them, with the scrum-half slightly delayed in advancing up in the defensive line with Earls outside him and Garry Ringrose on the inside.
Earls says he regrets his decision to shoot up after Billy Vunipola had offloaded in midfield and Ben Youngs delivered the ball to Farrell.
“Not even sit off Conor, just not go off on my own,” says Earls.
“Obviously, the ball was popped out and I did one thing and Conor did another.
“I went off on my own rather than just taking a feel for the game. If I got the intercept it would have been a different story but I made a mistake.”
Ireland’s backfield defence was another area of concern, after England’s kicking game saw the visitors heavily pressurising Schmidt’s team.
Asked how it felt on the pitch, Earls accepted that England out-half Farrell had masterminded a fine English performance.
“It felt good up until the bang and we were covering it but what people don’t understand as well [is that] Farrell is a world-class out-half and it was getting to the stage where we were well able to read 10s, but I think 10s are starting to read us a lot better now and there’s no better man than him.
“I suppose a lot of our defence on the edge will come from his old man [Andy Farrell] and obviously he knows us inside out but he had the accuracy to put the ball in behind us and fair play to him. You win some battles and you lose some.”
This area of the game is a fascinating one at present, with aggressive defences like Ireland’s demanding that wings stay ‘high’ up the pitch to ensure there are 13 or 14 bodies in the defensive line.
Earls chases as Jonny May fields. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO
Gone are the days when wings hovered in the backfield covering kick space until absolutely required to advance and make tackles.
Decision-making is a vital skill for any wing.
“It’s become massive now as wingers,” explains Earls. “We’re trying to read body language, we’re trying to close hard, trying to stay back, it’s just all becoming a feel.
“It’s not black and white anymore that I’m going to stay back, I’m a winger. We play high as a team so I’m going to stay up.
“We’re just getting a feel, about who’s inside us and a lot is put on us but it puts us under pressure to make good decisions.
“A lot of the time we make good decisions and we can shut down a team but I didn’t make a good decision at the weekend and it can go completely against you.”
Originally published at 06.30
Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here: