Some regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I'm harsh on a number of players, including Keith Earls.
Having been asked to explain my reasoning’s behind it on twitter, I thought 140 characters isn't enough to probably get my whole point across.
When Earls burst onto the scene in 2008, he was the new saviour of Irish rugby, the heir apparent to Brian O'Driscoll, someone we could hang all our hopes on. He was so impressive with his natural running lines and quick feet that he found his way onto the plane for the Lions in 2009.
Since then though, he hasn't progressed too much. He's still has electric pace, and a touch of quick step about him, but the cutting edge that used to produce line break after line break seems to have been figured out by defences.
Maybe that's because he isn't getting enough help from others to put him into space, or because that seems to be his only attacking move. His performances for Munster still earn him a lot of credit, but a lot of those "good performances" only involve looking dangerous with ball in hand without providing a proper cutting edge.
Earls strikes me as a technically gifted footballer, but one that seems to lack the brains to adapt his game and still provide a cutting edge.
His defence is improving, but not enough in the last few years. He still gets caught out, especially at 13, one thinks of Manu Tuilagi in particular rolling over him. As a young pretender it's forgivable, but he hasn't bulked up too much since then and his tackling isn't good enough.
Yes he can play lots of positions, but with the quality that Ireland have in the 3/4 line, he isn't needed there anymore. Others coming through can cover other positions like Zebo (Side note: I'd be really interested to see what Zebo can do from 13; he really impressed at 15, and seems to be more effective when running with the ball in the middle of the pitch) and Gilroy covering full back and wing, with Fitzgerald able to play right across the back line and McFadden being a centre playing on the wing.
In conclusion, there is no denying Earls talent, but I’m maybe questioning a bit of his know how. He needs to be given a wakeup call; much like Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe or even Luke Fitzgerald was at various stages of their career. And look how they turned out. And Earls isn't the only one in the current Irish set up that needs a wakeup call.