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Rugby World Cup: Electric Keith Earls is real deal to unlock Italy on the wing

By George Hook

Published 28/09/2015

Showing up well: Ireland’s Keith Earls was one of the stand-out performers as they eased past Romania
Showing up well: Ireland’s Keith Earls was one of the stand-out performers as they eased past Romania

There was something of a frantic urgency about the way Ireland started against Romania, though perhaps it was to be expected.

Joe Schmidt's open-minded approach to selection policy midweek gave the tournament debutants a chance to prove their worth at Wembley yesterday, but it also forced them to be selfish in their push for recognition.

The result was too many basic errors early on and some poor decisions in possession.

Ireland were loose and disjointed in the opening 10 minutes, forcing passes in the hope of keeping the ball alive, when the better option was to go to ground, recycle and build phases.

Immediately after Simon Zebo's disallowed try, Ireland reverted to a more structured approach with forwards sucking in Romanian defenders and leaving gaps out wide for the backs to exploit.

Tommy Bowe's opening try owed much to the quick feet and agility of Keith Earls. It was fitting, then, that the Limerick man crossed for Ireland's second try; a brilliant burst of pace to outsprint the cover defence.

An 18-point return from the first 40 minutes flattered Romania and Ireland should have been out of sight by the half-time whistle, but poor handling and bad decision making let Ireland's opponents off the hook.

Immediately from the restart, Devin Toner's barnstorming run into the Romanian twenty-two was squandered by Chris Henry's indiscipline at breakdown.

But minutes later, Earls once again showed his acceleration and poise to touch down after Eoin Reddan's clever grubbed kick.

As the tournament progresses, Schmidt's biggest selection calls will come on the wings. There is an electricity about Earls that makes him a real option to start against Italy.

Dave Kearney seems a certainty to claim one of the two available spots, but I would have Earls in ahead of Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald.

Zebo and Fitzgerald's versatility in covering different positions means they have the edge on Bowe when it comes to the replacements bench.

If Bowe doesn't start against Italy, it is unlikely he will feature at all in the match day squad.

Toner had a decent outing against average opposition, but Iain Henderson has done more than enough to claim the starting second row jersey on Sunday.

Ireland's 44-point haul at the final whistle was a reflection on the poor state of the opposition. Romania made eight changes from the side that frustrated France for large parts of their opening game and Ireland were never going to be troubled.

As we expected, Ireland are now two from two at the Rugby World Cup, but Schmidt's side have still to undergo a meaningful examination.

What would England give to be in that position this week? Few predicted a Wales win against the tournament hosts on Saturday night but Warren Gatland's side fought and scrapped to the bitter end at Twickenham.

Perhaps training camps in extreme Qatar heat are the way to go after all? Wales were certainly fitter than their opponents and their superior conditioning told as the game wore on. While England sucked for oxygen in the final quarter and muddled some basic decisions, including Robshaw's fatal call to kick for the corner rather than take a shot at goal to level the match, Wales remained composed and unflappable in their pursuit of victory.

Owen Farrell did exactly what was asked of him, but one has to wonder how England would have fared with George Ford in the driving seat?

Because for all of Farrell's talents, he simply does not possess the same ability to exploit open space as his younger team mate.

When England needed to press the accelerator and capitalise on their dominance, they were unable to come up with the killer blow. Sam Burgess is clearly still struggling to get to grips with the game and the combination of Farrell, Burgess and Brad Barritt in the midfield failed to get the best out of the England back three.

Anthony Watson, Johnny May and Mike Brown are all dangerous runners and proven try scorers, but Farrell's limited attacking game left them short of service.

This week, a wounded but heartened Wales march on towards Fiji on Thursday afternoon. Bumps and bruises tend to heal quicker on the back of a victory. For England, the pain of this defeat will haunt them right through to Australia on Saturday night. What chances, then, the hosts being eliminated after just three games? The Wallabies are in superb form. Stranger things have happened.

Belfast Telegraph

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