Six Nations: We need to talk about Keet

Sorry, make that Respect Keet. We have got in trouble for not showing adequate respect to everyone’s favourite blond Limerickman, so Anon, if you are reading (despite promising you wouldn’t) your over-sensitive antennae might get a bit upset shortly, so look away now.

The key question for Ireland in this Six Nations is an impossible one to answer – how do you replace the irreplacable? Drico might be back in a while, but make no mistake, the hill has been browed, and it’s Operation Replacement.

We have been running our regular Thirteenwatch series for a few months now on the contenders for the sacred 13 shirt – in the very first one, we joked about how Deccie was going to play Keith Earls there no matter what. Now, after 6 rounds of HEC, we finally agree Earls is the man for the job, especially after Darren Cave’s misfortune.  The field has essentially narrowed to three: Earls, Bowe and McFadden.  None are naturals in the role, but Earls’ case is the most compelling.   McFadden has plenty to offer, but need not be excluded altogether – he should be included alongside Keet at 12.  Bowe has not played at all at centre, and is needed on the wing.  And Keet’s form is good – he threw in a howler against Castres, but the manner in which he bounced back against Northampton put him back in credit.

So Earls it is. Straightforward? No, not at all. We have some serious reservations about Respect Keet, but lets start with the positives. He has great feet, pace to burn and a serious eye for the tryline.  While he’s no BOD, not by a long shot, it’s worth dwelling for a while on what Earls will bring to the team.  A combination of McFadden and Earls would have serious gas – not something Ireland have had in midfield since D’arcy and O’Driscoll were in the flush of youth and at their peak, in the 2006 Autumn series when Ireland looked like world-beaters.  It would give defences something new to think about.  We’re not saying they’ll be better but it will offer a different kind of threat.

Now for the bad stuff.  When we see Earls, we are always reminded of the great Arrigo Sacchi’s opinion on Steven Gerrard:

“He is a great footballer, but not a great player. He lacks what I call knowing-how-to-play football.”

Earls has all the tools to be a great player for Ireland, but he just does not fully convince. The defensive errors Earls makes at 13 are worryingly consistent and similar (e.g. Leinster 2009, Fat Manu 2011). In addition, one does not see huge development in Earls game since his breakthrough season in 2009 – contrast with Bob Kearney, who has come back from injury a much more rounded player than before, and  is a much better player even than he was in 2009, the previous peak of his powers. We’re unsure if Earls will improve as a player, or whether he is getting adequate guidance in this department. Caveat: the chopping and changing positionally is a major hindrance here.

There is also the mental side of things. When Earls is not completely psychologically clued into a game, he can be desperate. On his Lions debut, his nerves were palpable 6,000 miles away, and he succumbed with his first Garryowen. Fast forward to October – he flagged in the press a few days before the Wales quarter-final that he was thinking ahead of the game at hand, missed 5 tackles out of 8, and was at fault for all 3 tries. While his enthusiasm, as evidenced by the Superstar quote, or talking about wanting to go out there and run around and have fun, is endearing, it’s also a bit concerning that a professional sportsman talks like a 10 year old. It’s a classic mental mistake – thinking about the outcome and not the process – and it’s one that is repeatedly made.

Now, breathe.

Let us say this. If Earls is going to be the man, he must play all 5 games, even though over the course of five hard games, we can more or less say he will throw in one shocker. It’s important people remember that it’s essentially his first test level start in the shirt, and it won’t always be smooth. It’s also imperative because of Earls’ unique circumstances i.e. his fragile mentality. Earls must be trusted, and it must be made clear to him in advance he is trusted – not a Deccie trait (according to Donncha’s autobiog) it must be acknowledged.

We have outlined our reservations, but from this moment on we are fully behind him.  It’s important everyone is 100% supportive of Keet at 13 – he needs it, and Ireland need it. No-one will be happier than us if he delivers in the shirt in the series.  If and when he does have a bad game – hopefully it happens early on so he can finish on a high note – he must be backed (to be fair, this is a Deccie trait). And all the better if he starts showing increasing maturity, and even some evidence of embryonic leadership qualities – a totem is bowing out, and a man of Earls talent would be a proud successor …. if he can marshall it effectively. Fingers and toes crossed…

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6 Comments

  1. I agree with you that it should probably be McFadden and earls in the centre but can't see kidney dropping darce. I hope he doesn't try to make it up to McFadden by throwing him on the wing though, because that's gotta be trimbles shirt.Ps that link to previous post with anonymous' comments was a hoot and a half.

  2. Paulie needs to take his captain's role seriously and ensure he has a chuppa-chup and a happy meal at hand to make Keet feel good:http://irishlions.blogspot.com/2009/06/shark-burgers-by-keith.html

  3. @anoonamous agreed. I think we said it on another post, but the fact that BOD is injured is going to be Dorce's golden ticket, as Deccie will want to maintain some continuity in midfield, and put his new 13 in with an experienced partner. Our preference is Ferg-Keet, but Dorce-Keet is probably most likely.@Xyz My information is that Paulie's seemingly endless supply of chupa-chups was what tilted the captaincy his way over Rory 'Have you seen my prize cow' Best.

  4. Keet = brillint + ligind!

  5. Deccie picked as good a team as he possibly could, save for #4. My anxiety with Keet at #13 is that, after his baby's birth, he'll unveil his new "ink" or some puke-inducing soccer-style celebration if he scores.

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