Easterby relishes rare start

IT may have been tough at the Teufavia Stadium on Saturday, but despite the bumps and bruises Guy Easterby wouldn’t swap a minute of it.

It's not often that the scrum-half gets the opportunity to spring from the shadow of Peter Stringer, but last weekend with the Munster player resting at home, the former Llanelli man was given a rare start in the Irish No 9 shirt. And typically, he revelled in it.

When you look at the statistics, it's difficult to believe that during his three years as an Irish international, Easterby had only started three international games before the match in Nuku'alofa.

His first cap came against the US on the Irish tour of the Americas, back in 2000, while the following year, Easterby was part of the side that were well beaten by Scotland in the rearranged foot and mouth Six Nations game at Murrayfield.

He impressed against Fiji at the tail end of last year but he still didn't even get a look-in for a starting spot during this year's Six Nations campaign.

"It was good to get a start," said the 32-year-old. "It is frustrating being on the bench, but it's something you have to deal with. Obviously you'd rather be number two than not be involved at all but I don't think I'd bother to be here at all if I was happy to be number two.

"Hopefully I'll play against Samoa and then I'll get to play in some of those three warm-up games. Everyone's aim at this stage is to be involved in the World Cup and the only way you can do that is by playing well when you get the chance, and that will be my focus over the next couple of months."

Saturday's game was a good start on Easterby's road to making an impression on the Irish management. His delivery off the base of the scrum was quite good, and although there were times he didn't get the ball to his backs as quickly as he would have liked, this has to be countered with the pressure the Irish pack were under from their opponents at the breakdown.

And, of course, he scored two tries, efforts typical of a player who would probably list breaking from the back of the scrum as one of his main traits.

"I did okay, could have done a lot better, could have done a lot worse," said Easterby.

"But overall I wasn't disappointed. And of course, it's nice to score. The game was quite scrappy, but it was always going to be. Last week we had quite hard preparation and it wasn't the best performance we've ever had, but it's good to get a win out of it.

"It was never going to be easy, the ground wasn't very suitable, but I think to come away with a 21 point victory and any victory away in a test is a good victory is great. There's lot we could have done better but I don't think you can fault anyone for the effort they put in."

At the moment Easterby is in the process of switching clubs, from Llanelli, where he made his name, to Rotherham, where he started his rugby career. The recession in Welsh rugby put an end to his days in the valley but the scrum-half is looking forward to a move nearer home.

"I've really enjoyed Llanelli, I've made some great mates and Simon's there as well. But even though the deal is not fully complete yet, Rotherham will be a really good move for me.

"They were the first club I played for, and I'm back at home as well, so it's a good opportunity. I'm really looking forward to it, going back and giving something back to the club where I started."

Meanwhile, the players who participated in Saturday's game underwent a light pool session while the remainder of the 30-man party took part in a full training session at the Teufavia Stadium. The entire squad will train again at the venue tomorrow morning before departing to Apia, Samoa, for the final leg of this three-week tour.

On the injury front, centre Johnny Bell, who had a fantastic game against Tonga, is suffering from extensive scrapes on his right arm, while Ronan O'Gara is reported to be having a slight problem with his left wrist. Both players are expected to be available for selection for the game against Samoa.

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