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'He Has Become One Of The Best Wingers In The World'

'He Has Become One Of The Best Wingers In The World'
By Gavin Cooney

These days, plaudits are falling at the feet at Keith Earls as often as desperate, flailing defenders.

Having scored his 27th international try against Italy at the weekend, Earls further enhanced his reputation as one of Joe Schmidt's undroppables. Whereas once there was debate whether Earls was worth his place in the Irish team, now the only debatable issue is exactly what that position is. He has found a home on the wing for Munster and Ireland, although ended the Italian game at 13, deputising for the stricken Robbie Henshaw.

Whether he will start in that position against Wales, however, is unclear. Former Irish head coach Eddie O'Sullivan was our guest on this week's episode of the Six Nations Takeaway, our rugby show with Carry Out Off Licence, and he hailed Earls as one of the best wingers in world rugby at the moment.

He was nervous early in his career, as you say he was quite superstitious. That mental approach to the game didn't help him.

Once he parked all of that, and went out and played a kind of que sera, sera game, just-give-me-the-ball-and-let-me-go kind of game, he has become one of the best wingers in the world.

Everytime he touches the ball, something good happens.

Earls showed initial promise as an outside-centre before being shunted out to the wing. This, O'Sullivan says, is redolent of one of his former players.

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 He reminded me of Luke Fitzgerald. Both had electric pace off the mark. They take three steps and you're saying, 'wow, what just happened there'.

Both were, ironically, bedeviled by injuries. That tends to happen with fast players, they have a tendency to pick up soft-tissue injuries. But with both Keith and Luke, when they came through, I thought they had potential at outside-centre.

Keith got his first international cap in 2008 against Canada, and I thought back then that he might play as an outside-centre, and learn the position. But the fact he spent most of his career on the wing, that left him.

As a winger, he has out-and-out pace. Like they say in the NFL, the three most important things are 'speed, speed, and speed'. He's got that. He has great evasive skills, and he's very brave - he plays really hard all of the time, and is 100% under the high ball and carrying into contact.

He seems to use his time out injured to recover his hunger for the game, so when he comes back, he's mad for work.

I just love seeing him get the ball in his hands.

O'Sullivan, however, is unsure as to whether Earls will be played in the centre against Wales.

The fact he hasn't played defensively at 13 recently...I remember he found himself at 13 in a famous Heineken Cup game between Leinster and Munster. He came out of his line a fraction, and Drico and Darce skinned him.

With the ball he'll be fine.

The problem for Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell is - what's our best defensive combination at centre?

You can watch the show in full below.

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