Nations SeriesMatch report

Keith Earls gets the moment he deserves as Ireland left frustrated by 19 point win over England

Ireland rewarded for playing with greater ambition and width than joyless England

Ireland 29 England 10

Andy Farrell places huge emphasis on players reaching a century of caps for their country and making the week, and especially the day, as memorable as possible, first and foremost with a win. So, having helped plan a few surprises for Keith Earls in the build-up to him reaching the landmark, the Irish head coach forewarned his evergreen winger last Monday: “This isn’t a normal week, so go with it.”

While the overall performance left head coach and players alike more than a tad frustrated, Farrell couldn’t have scripted Earls’s week much better.

Not that Farrell’s advice helped Earls that much, for after becoming Ireland’s ninth centurion, and first winger to reach the landmark, he revealed: “I was saying to the lads, it was probably the worst week of my life with all the attention around the 100th cap. I’m delighted everything worked out perfect and you couldn’t have a better bunch of lads to do it with.”

Earls was presented to the media last Tuesday, thus making public that the 35-year-old Munster man would play his 100th Test for Ireland against England last Saturday, and on Thursday evening he was caught off guard by a surprise visit to the Irish team room from his parents Ger and Sandra, sister, Jenny, his wife Edel, and their three daughters, Ella-May, Laurie and Emie.

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“That was a really nice touch and my wife managed to get a video of a couple of people, Declan Kidney, Joe Schmidt, Drico and a couple of the lads, Rory Scannell and Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway. It was a nice little 10-minute video and she caught me off guard with that one.”

Earls admitted he barely kept his emotions in check.

“Yeah, I was, very emotional – the hardest thing I’ve ever done [was] on Thursday trying to keep the tears out of my eyes around all the lads, but I think I managed to do it.”

Another surprise was not only leading the team out, but doing so with his three daughters as well.

“Yeah, it was a brilliant moment. I never did it for my 50th because we had a big match to play against Scotland in the Six Nations, so I kind of regretted it a small bit after that game. It was a special, special moment to walk out with my three girls.”

A dozen of the Irish starting line-up were making their seasonal bow, so mistakes were inevitable. The lineout malfunctioned against a competitive English defence on the Irish throw, as did the attack at times.

The handling glitches were inevitable, not least as Ireland played with vastly more ambition and width than an English team who were vocal and up for it, but played joyless rugby in a tactical straitjacket.

No one was more frustrated watching on than Earls, but cometh the hour, cometh the man, and his well-timed and well-choreographed introduction had a galvanising effect on the crowd.

“It was hell,” he admitted. “It’s hell sitting on the bench, nerve-racking. In my head I was ‘Jesus, will he ever put me on? This will be very embarrassing after everything we’ve gone through’.

“But look, being realistic, as a team we probably weren’t satisfied with the way we played. I know we scored a couple of tries but a couple of mistakes and a couple of bits of detail that we pride ourselves on and we let ourselves down on that as well. But it’s always great to get a win over a good England side.”

After Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony sliced England open for the first try by Bundee Aki, Ireland were rewarded for playing with greater width, as well as much more energy and work-rate off the ball and in defence, with four finishes by players – Garry Ringrose, Mack Hansen, James Lowe and Earls – hugging the touchline

Fittingly, Earls had the final say from Aki’s huge skip pass when finishing with an exaggerated dive by the corner flag, as if hurdling an imaginary low tackle, which was a little out of character.

“It’s amazing how the moment makes you do things you don’t like doing,” he admitted, “but I really enjoyed it. It was a good team try and a good pass from Bundee so I was happy to get in the corner.”

The highlight of his day was being presented with his 100th cap by Farrell.

“We’re big Rugby League fans in our house. My father always watched Rugby League and Faz was always mentioned in our house, and what he’s done and the respect I have for him as a man and how relaxed he’s made our environment – people are being themselves and what he’s done for us – that was a special moment.

“Seeing videos of Conor, Johnny, Pete and Paulie talking [about Earls], we usually don’t open up about each other like that, they were quite special. It was a rare thing to see the lads get emotional speaking about me, you take it for granted but they were incredible moments along with the family stuff and hearing about that. But receiving the cap from Andy was definitely incredible.”

Yet as well as being somewhat shy of such attention, being the competitor, Earls’s abiding ambition is going to a fourth World Cup more than reaching any personal milestones.

“Yeah, listen that’s the reason why I came back for preseason, that’s the reason that I’m doing everything possible to stay fit. I have a burning desire to give myself the best chance to get to another World Cup. I tell you one thing, I’d hate to be the coaches trying to pick their 33-man squad, it’s going to be tough.”

SCORING SEQUENCE – 5 mins: Ford pen 0-3; 9: Aki try, Byrne con 7-3; 39: Ringrose try 12-3; (half-time 12-3); 55: Lowe try 17-3; 65: Hansen try 22-3; 72: Sinckler try, Ford con 22-10; 74: Earls try, Crowley con 29-10.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Ross Byrne (Leinster), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster, capt); Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Cian Prendergast (Connacht).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster) for Sheehan (37 mins); Joe McCarthy (Leinster) for O’Mahony (53); Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Furlong (58), Jack Crowley (Munster) for Aki (59-69) and for Byrne (69); Keith Earls (Munster) for Lowe (59); Conor Murray (Munster) for Gibson-Park (67); Caelan Doris (Leinster) for Ryan (70); Jeremy Loughman (Munster) for Porter (72).

ENGLAND: Freddie Steward (Leicester); Anthony Watson (unattached), Joe Marchant (Stade Francais), Manu Tuilagi (Sale), Elliot Daly (Saracens); George Ford (Sale), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Ellis Genge (Bristol), Jamie George (Saracens), Will Stuart (Bath); Maro Itoje (Saracens), David Ribbans (Toulon); Courtney Lawes (Northampton, capt), Ben Earl (Saracens), Billy Vunipola (Saracens).

Replacements: Kyle Sinckler (Bristo) Stuart (45 mins); Ollie Chessum (Leicester) for Ribbans (51); Joe Marler (Harlequins) for Genge, Danny Care (Harlequins) (both 57); Ollie Lawrence (Bath) for Tuilagi (61); Theo Dan (Saracens) for George (67), Marcus Smith (Harlequins) for Watson (70), Jack Willis (Toulouse) for (76).

Red card: Vunipola (53 mins).

Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times