Joe Schmidt has given Keith Earls and Simon Zebo a massive vote of confidence by saying the Munster duo had justified their selection in the Ireland World Cup squad’s most competitive unit.
Zebo, playing at full-back against Romania, was at his lively best as the Irish ran in six tries, sending out a wonderful skip pass to man of the match Earls for the second of a double that puts him level with the great Brian O’Driscoll as his country’s leading World Cup try scorer.
Schmidt admitted that back three positions were the most hotly contested in his squad, referring to the likes of Andrew Trimble, Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy, all of whom had not even made the 31-man World Cup panel.
Shaun Cronin, head sports reporter for breakingnews.ie, spoke to the Irish Examiner’s rugby correspondent Simon Lewis after the game. Video by Dan Linehan.
“It was very much a difficult group to select in the first place,” the Ireland head coach said.
“What I would say is that there has been some high quality moments provided by both Simon and Keith, and I suppose that demonstrated that there was real merit in their selection in the squad.”
For Earls it was the second start in a row at this World Cup and he looks to have stolen a march on his rivals for a continued role in the Ireland XV, althugh Schmidt was giving nothing away with Tommy Bowe also putting his hand up yesterday after two tries from the right wing.
“It was great as were the overall performances and you don’t want to knock a player who has demonstrated form today or last week because it is hard to match it up. There are people who are playing in the back three, I think that Keith has obviously played really well both weeks.”
Meanwhile Donnacha Ryan fears a backlash from Italy next weekend after their lacklustre display defeating Canada in Elland Road on Saturday
“I thought Canada had them on the ropes,” said Ryan. “I’m sure that Italy will be disappointed with their performance, but they’re obviously going to come out all guns blazing next week.
“We played them four years ago in Dunedin (in the 2011 World Cup) and I’m sure they’ll be gunning to make an improvement on that.”
“Preparation is the same,” said Ryan. “We take every team on its merits. We would have done the same sort of analysis this week on Romania as we would have done against Canada. We’ll do the same thing for Italy. We didn’t take Canada lightly.
“There is a massive uplift in teams now with fitness levels as well. You have to go through your process every week.
“It obviously gives you comfort that you’ve ticked all the boxes and it relieves pressure an awful lot to know you’ve your homework done.”
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