Keith Earls and Ireland always in pursuit of the perfect game

Winger is set to win his 73rd cap against England, having scored 27 tries

Ireland winger Keith Earls at a press conference at Carton House, Co  Kildare, ahead of taking on England in the Six Nations on Saturday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ireland winger Keith Earls at a press conference at Carton House, Co Kildare, ahead of taking on England in the Six Nations on Saturday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

The devil in the detail is what other teams must unravel if they are to find a way past Joe Schmidt’s Ireland. England get the next crack, at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, but if they hope to win at the venue for the first time since 2013 they will have to think laterally, look past the obvious in terms of the analysis.

Eddie Jones, England’s head coach, has zeroed-in on Ireland’s aerial game, their work at the breakdown and willingness to take teams through a huge number of phases as central tenets of a successful blueprint. He’s right to a point but to suggest Ireland are overly prescribed is to miss the nuances in the gameplan.

Schmidt is a master tactician who not only sources opposition weaknesses but invariably alights on the best way to exploit them. The buy-in from his players is unequivocal. Last week’s training camp in Portugal was, as Keith Earls pointed out with a smile, a welcome source of Vitamin D, but the sole preoccupation was to beat England.

The material for review came from last season’s Six Nations, the recent November Test series, encompassing attack and defence and in particular the areas that don’t bear up well to the scrutiny of hindsight.

Earls explained that one area involved the concession of tries late-on in matches when seemingly in control, something that was addressed by the coaching team and management. “Even when we pulled away from teams, we kind of relaxed a small bit. Teams nearly caught us in the end or else we let in two or three silly tries when we shouldn’t have let in.

“It’s just about improving all aspects of our game. It genuinely goes down as far as our ‘catch-pass’. We looked at it this morning (Monday). A few of our passes were behind us (others)in front maybe (and if they had been better executed) someone might have got through a gap.

“I think we’re a bit obsessed about having the perfect game. Trying to have the perfect game is impossible but we work hard on every aspect.”

Coaches devise and players execute and Earls pointed to the capacity of the current squad to narrow the focus to a single 80-minutes to get the result and go again. It’s the reason Ireland won a Grand Slam last season and why this week nothing matters beyond Saturday evening. He was asked whether the playing group was the best he has been involved with in terms of dealing with expectation.

“I’ve played in great squads but I think it is, especially what we’ve achieved in the last two or three years. We’ve been the first to do a lot of things, we’ve played in some big matches, they’re a great bunch of lads and we don’t get carried away.

“It’s just about winning, and doing whatever it takes to win, enjoying the win together, going onto the next job to win a bit more. They’re used to winning now, we know it just doesn’t happen; we’ve to work hard to get results.”

On a personal level, he loves his rugby, perhaps more so in the last couple seasons than at any other time in his senior career. He is set to win his 73rd cap against England, having scored 27 tries, and is comfortable with his role in the team. As he said if he can look in the mirror and know that he couldn’t have given any more in a match then he accepts that everything can’t always be perfect.

He’d no doubt like to update one statistic. His only try against England was in 2010 and the most recent against Italy in last season’s Six Nations.

Earls is adamant playing England doesn’t carry greater resonance. “I try not to disrespect or respect a team any less than any other team. Obviously you care about them but it’s a game of rugby at the end of the day.

“As long as I can prepare well and go out and do everything I can to win in an Ireland jersey then that’s it; I don’t need any other motivational factors, whether it’s England or God save the Queen, I’m just going to go out and do my best in an Ireland jersey, no matter what it takes.”

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