YOU DEEP WHAT YOU SOW
Earls: Building a stronger squad is vital for success
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