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Earls says Ringrose can be the centre of attention

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

After the performance of the stand-ins 10 days ago, it is easy to feel good about Ireland's prospects for the final two Six Nations games.

It is difficult to worry too much about any team that absorbs the loss of three Lions to come out and score five tries in a dominant performance against Wales.

The latest injury bulletin will only ease Irish minds with Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong on track for a return for Saturday's penultimate game against Scotland at home. The duo are expected to come into the team if they can come through this morning's training session at Carton House.

Their return counter-balances the loss of Chris Farrell, who has fallen to the curse of the No.13 jersey.

The man of the match in the Wales win, he is a loss but the return to fitness of Garry Ringrose has eased fears.

At the end of last season, the Leinster outside centre could claim to be Ireland's first choice in his position but the shoulder surgery he underwent, the arrival of Bundee Aki, his form on return and a recent ankle issue have clouded the picture.

After enduring his own issues, the 23-year-old now profits from others' misfortune to return to the fray.

The loss of both Robbie Henshaw and Farrell has opened a door for Ringrose, but he is short on game time and was slow finding his feet since making a return to action mid-season.

Fifty-five minutes against the woeful Southern Kings is the extent of his involvement since he limped off against Ulster in January, but there is confidence within the squad that he can step in and step up.

"We all know how good he's been," Keith Earls said yesterday. "He's been training the last two weeks with us and it doesn't look like he's been out long. He's still sharp, he's been causing havoc.

"We've been unfortunate to lose Robbie and Chris. They're two world-class players, but we've another world-class player coming in so we've been quite blessed the last couple of seasons with 13s and centres after Drico (Brian O'Driscoll).

"Before I would have had to step in a few times, or someone else would have had to step in, but we've got out-and-out 13s in depth now, which is great."

It is perhaps unfair, but the comparisons between O'Driscoll and Ringrose are inevitable given their similar backgrounds and often strikingly similar styles of play.

Having once been burdened by similar sentiments, Earls feared for his younger colleague but he has been impressed by the Leinster man's capacity to cope with it.

"When Ringer was coming through and he was being compared to Drico, I remember saying, 'That poor young fella'. There's nothing worse than that, you just need to let him be himself," he said.

"I had been compared to Drico as well and it was the worst thing ever, because I was trying to be like Drico or trying to be better than Drico.

"Ringer is a very quiet fella, he'll speak when he has to speak but his work rate off and on the field is phenomenal. He gets on with his job and he's a really intelligent fella. He's still young enough, he's 23 now so he's still extremely young, but I think he's definitely a lot better than I was when I was 23.

"He has it all, he just needs a good run now. He looks a bit bigger now from the surgery and stuff.

"He has been doing a lot of weights with his shoulder. He is in here now and in my eyes he is a world-class centre and he is going to get better.

"He can create anything from nothing, he can put fellas into space. I never thought his defence was questionable, personally. He is a hard player, he plays hard and he puts his body on the line which is great."

Given Ireland's defensive struggles in this tournament, the enforced changes at outside centre have been an issue but Earls believes the players have been able to cope.

With Jacob Stockdale still finding his feet without the ball on one wing and Aki and Ringrose pairing up for the first time there is a lot of faith being placed in the defensive system.

"Years ago it used to bother (the system), chopping and changing, but I think we're getting such clarity now," he said. "As we're getting older, we're sitting down and we're chatting to each other more. Before, I suppose I might have done something different to Drico, but now we're kind of all doing what is best for the team.

"We're just constantly chatting and constantly learning from each other, and we're constantly chatting about what would happen if different scenarios pop up.

"I know Marms (Kieran Marmion) had to cover wing a few times last year, and that's what we expect from each other."

A win could cement Earls' first Six Nations title and he billed this week as the biggest of his career. And he says Ireland are focused on improving on their efforts so far.

"Anyone in sport is trying to get to the perfect game. That's something we're working on, to get the full 80-minute performance," he said.

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