MUNSTER’S Keith Earls gets another opportunity to stake a claim to become Brian O’Driscoll’s long-term successor in the number 13 shirt for Ireland when he starts at outside centre in the side to face Argentina at the Aviva Stdadium this Saturday (2pm).
Limerickman Earls will win his 34th cap when he partners Gordon D’Arcy in the centre for Ireland’s final autumn international of the series.
Twenty five-year-old Earls has likened Saturday’s Test with the Pumas to a ‘cup final’.
Apart from the obvious factor of seedings for Monday week’s Rugby World Cup pool allocation draw, there is plenty riding on the outcome of Ireland’s final international match of 2012.
Declan Kidney’s side will be determined to get the upper hand on Argentina and add to their home wins over the South Americans from 2008 and 2010.
Historically, the Pumas have proven to be difficult opponents for Ireland to handle - World Cup defeats in 1999 and 2007 are testament to that fact.
Ireland’s 29-9 victory over Argentina in November two years ago went down in the record books as their second ever success at the Aviva Stadium.
Keith Earls, a second half replacement that day, had a late try ruled out by the television match official. Earls recognises Argentina as top class opposition.
“They’re physical men, they’re hard and they play hard. They’re passionate fellas and we will have to front up hard,” Earls admitted this week.
“They have real quality behind the scrum. We saw that in the Rugby Championship and they have obviously taken a lot from Graham Henry’s involvement. We’re in for a right battle, especially in the centre.”
Earls is one of five Munstermen named in the starting line-up to face the Pumas. Simon Zebo will again start at full-back, while Conor Murray gets the nod to start at scrum-half ahead of Leinster’s Limerick-born number nine, Eoin Reddan.
In the pack, Donnacha Ryan is included in the second-row, while Peter O’Mahony will win his ninth cap in the back-row.
The selected Irish side for Saturday contains one change from the side which lost to South Africa in the first of the autumn internationals earlier this month. Craig Gilroy replaces his Ulster colleague Andrew Trimble on the left wing to win his first full cap after impressing in last Saturday’s non-cap international against Fiji at Thomond Park.
Dave Kilcoyne, who started the Ireland XVs clash with Fiji in Limerick last weekend, is listed among the replacements for Saturday afternoon’s crucial Test. Among the replacements, second row Donncha O’Callaghan could make his 90th appearance for his country if he is called into action.
IRELAND v Argentina: Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Craig Gilroy, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Michael Bent, Donncha O’Callaghan, Iain Henderson, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Fergus McFadden.