Earls: Build­ing a stronger squad is vi­tal for suc­cess

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL SCULLY

AN evo­lu­tion rather than a rev­o­lu­tion is how Keith Earls sees Ire­land’s rise since their 2015 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal exit at the hands of Ar­gentina.

Sch­midt of­ten ref­er­ences the 43-20 de­feat and the ill for­tune that be­fell his squad.

Ire­land’s lack of depth was badly ex­posed that day with Paul O’con­nell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O’ma­hony and Sean O’brien all miss­ing.

But Sch­midt has since trans­formed his squad into an one of se­ri­ous strength.

“He hasn’t rein­vented the wheel,” said Earls of the head coach. “Fel­las are get­ting older, ex­pe­ri­enced and are start­ing to take the reins as well.

“The depth thing was mas­sive and it was out of our hands at the World Cup but we still could have beaten Ar­gentina.

“We lacked a bit of ex­pe­ri­ence, we lost a lot of our lead­ers, whereas now 1 to 15, 1 to 23 or 1 to 31, they can all lead.”

Sch­midt hasn’t shirked the chal­lenge of giv­ing a young, hun­gry bat­tal­ion of play­ers their chance at Test level.

For Earls, the likes of James Ryan and Jor­dan Lar­mour are light years ahead of when his own gen­er­a­tion were tak­ing their first steps into in­ter­na­tional rugby.

“They’re dif­fer­ent,” he smiled. “Not much both­ers them. Years ago when we were play­ing with the Paul O’con­nells, Ro­nan O’garas and Brian O’driscolls, ev­ery­thing was nearly done through fear of los­ing.

“The lads that have come in, they want to win, it’s not a fear of los­ing. They’re built dif­fer­ently than us. They’re built with great con­fi­dence and hope­fully it will keep car­ry­ing on like that.”

Sch­midt said af­ter nam­ing his team on Thurs­day that he hopes his front­line stars are look­ing over their shoul­ders now, run­ning that bit faster to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion.

Earls ex­pe­ri­ences it ev­ery day in train­ing.

“It’s phe­nom­e­nal,” he said. “A cou­ple of years ago, maybe Novem­ber 2012, I hadn’t played for four or five weeks and I ended up start­ing against South Africa.

“If it was nowa­days, you’ve two or three fel­las who can eas­ily slot in. You wouldn’t even get in the squad, never mind the team.

“It has been bril­liant. At the last World Cup, that’s what got us. We lost a lot of play­ers but now we have four or five fel­las who could eas­ily come in in any po­si­tion.

“You saw it in the Six Na­tions when Rob­bie Hen­shaw got in­jured, Chris Far­rell got in­jured and all of a sud­den Garry Rin­grose is play­ing. He’s world class, you know. It’s credit to the coaches, credit to the play­ers and the depth we have.”

So did any of those left be­hind watch­ing the eight-try fest in Chicago last week­end have some mixed emo­tions about what they were see­ing un­fold at Sol­dier Field?

“Oh no,” replied Earls. “You want to see Ire­land do well.

“There are a lot of fel­las put­ting their hands up and we’re con­stantly look­ing over our backs at what’s coming.

“But you have to have con­fi­dence within your­self and within the team that you can find a bal­ance to get ahead.”

RE­VENGE IN MIND Keith Earls pre­pares for Ar­gentina Test tonight and, above, 2015 de­feat to the Pu­mas

GREEN FOR GO Earls, third right, and rest of squad break up af­ter team photo at Aviva Sta­dium yes­ter­day

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