'Keith Earls has potentially saved our World Cup... that's the reason Joe loves him'
The Munster winger turns 32 next week but he out-paced two subs have a lot of years on him.
Keith Earls had some fits and starts in attack but he will have been livid with himself for his rash offload, around the 50-minute mark, that put his side under the cosh for the next five minutes. It was one of three times that Earls gave up the ball to the Japanese but he was not the only one to be profligate in possession.
From 12-3 ahead against Japan, at Shizuoka Stadium, Ireland ran out of gas, steam, legs and anything else that was going. They lost 19-12 but, astoundingly, it could have been a lot worse.
Still, there was a moment when Ireland looked to have so utterly blasted their own feet off when Earls used his instincts and pace for the greater good. This all-out defensive effort saved him team a point and, in doing so, could well have saved their World Cup.
On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Andrew Trimble and Barry Murphy [from 27:00 below] discussed Earls' try-saving tackle on Kenki Fukuoka and what it could mean for Ireland's hopes of making the knock-out stages.
"It could be fine, yet," offers Trimble.
"If Scotland beat Japan, stop me if I'm wrong, we've still got a good chance of topping the pool. So Earlsy, in chasing back after that intercept, potentially saved Ireland's World Cup. That's the reason why Joe Schmidt loves him. Stuff like that."
Ireland looked out on their feet in the closing stages as, seven points down, they tried to break through the Japanese lines in the face of fierce defence and line-speed.
On 76:56, under pressure, Jordan Larmour's pass for Garry Ringrose had no pace in it and Fukuoka, on the sprint, intercepted. Larmour (circled red) turned to chase back and Earls, wise to the danger, had spun and was starting to chase back.
Fukuoka had come on as a sub 27 minutes before this moment and is five years younger than Earls. Larmour is almost 10 years younger than Earls and had only been on the pitch 15 minutes but it was the Munster winger than sprinted harder than the others to get back and tackle Fukuoka within five yards of the Irish tryline.
Earls was so close to securing the turnover, too, but the cavalry arrived and his poach attempt spilled forward and referee Angus Gardner awarded a scrum to Japan.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) September 28, 2019
Ireland won the ball back but Joey Carbery kicked the ball out to secure the losing bonus point, dividing opinions across the Irish rugby community. For what it is worth, former Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery feels Carbery made the right call as keeping the ball in play only to concede again would 'have killed us completely'.
As it stands, Ireland will go through to the quarter finals, regardless of what Japan or Scotland do, if they beat Russia and Samoa with try-scoring bonus points.
Ireland are way, way down but, thanks to Earls, they are a long way from out.
WATCH THE IRELAND Vs. JAPAN HIGHLIGHTS HERE: