Keith Earls is expecting a typically physical Six Nations encounter with England this weekend as Ireland look to get their title defence off to the best possible start.
Matches between these two teams are always high in the physicality stakes and with England seeing the return of Mako and Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes among others, there is a widespread expectation that Eddie Jones may try to win on Saturday by sheer brute force.
Such a gameplan has its advantages. England, across the park, have bigger and heavier players than Ireland in the respective positions.
Earls, speaking to the media at Ireland’s base in Carton House this afternoon, believes that the Aviva Stadium clash will be a physical affair but that this is just what you get in the Six Nations, against any team.
“Every game we play in is brutal and physical because it’s 15 men trying to kill another 15 men within the rules of the game, you know?”
For the players, Earls reveals, they know they expect a “brutal” encounter any time they go out onto the pitch. The verbal sparring between Eddie Jones and Joe Schmidt over the past week which suggests what might be in store on Saturday is something which the players ignore.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t get too bogged down in it. I’d obviously expect a game like that [England] to be brutal, brutally physical,” Earls said.
“As I said, they are expected to be brutally physical against Scotland, Italians and the Welsh as well. So, it’s nothing new, it’s just the two coaches…on the field, we always know it’s going to be brutal.”
A huge boost to Jones and English supporters is the return of the Vunipola brothers – and Earls is all too aware of the damage they can do.
“Mako is a loosehead but the way he’s able to ball-play, he brings that extra dimension for them. Billy does what he does best, he runs over fellas and he’s quite physical.
“As a whole, I know they’re talking about physicality and it’s nothing new when you face England or you face a Six Nations game – it’s going to be physical no matter who you play and that’s what we’re expecting again on Saturday.”
Ireland rarely put too much focus on their opponents, even when the return of such high profile players may prove distracting. Much of their attention is on their own game and how they can continually improve.
In this regard, one of the main areas which the squad have been paying particular attention to is the ability to start games well.
“We’re always looking to improve. Things are always analysed. It’s amazing when you look at it, the small margins that will win you a game. Even though we’ve had a good November, we had a slow start against Argentina where we made a couple of mistakes.
“The plan is, and from training in Portugal this week, we’re making sure we get the detail right so we can have a fast start and I suppose so the English don’t catch us on the hop.”
Earls continued: “We’re going to have to start strong, not like we did in the last couple of years where we kind of had a slow start or a Johnny Sexton kick getting us out of trouble.
“I suppose that puts a lot of pressure on us as well. We know the challenge that’s in front of us is massive.”