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Earls: It Was One Of My Proudest Moments

Earls: It Was One Of My Proudest Moments

Keith Earls celebrates with Jordan Larmour after setting him up for Ireland's opening try against the Māori All Blacks in Wellington ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Try scorers Jordan Larmour and Nick Timoney were pleased with the improvements shown by a youthful Ireland team in overcoming the Māori All Blacks 30-24 in Wellington.

In avenging a 32-17 defeat from the opening week of the summer tour, Larmour book-ended this rain and wind-hit encounter with two tries, and back rowers Timoney and Gavin Coombes also crossed the whitewash.

Taking captain Keith Earls, Stuart McCloskey and Niall Scannell out the equation, the starting XV had an average age of 24 with the youngest players being Joe McCarthy (21) and Cian Prendergast (22).

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Following up on the Test team’s historic result last weekend, this was a big achievement too for Earls and his team-mates as Ireland had lost their two previous meetings with the Māori in the modern era.

Timoney admitted they had come into this one eager to make amends, saying: “We had a tough day out the first week against them, so we sort of had a bit of a point to prove.

“We came through with the win in what was a pretty tough game. We sort of got caught a bit (in the first game), maybe a lack of cohesion and just a shock to the system of maybe stepping up a level.

“So we had a lot of work to do in, whatever it was, the last ten to 14 days. A lot of looking at ourselves but it looks like some of it paid off tonight.”

He added: “I think we controlled the game pretty well, both the half-backs were very sharp, the backs in general. I thought the forwards, we maybe worked a small bit on being more willing to listen to the instructions, sort of staying in our shape a bit better.

“I think we controlled the game a bit better than we did last time out. The pressure was put on to look at ourselves and see how much progress we could make in 13 days or so. I think it showed today that we did come on leaps and bounds.”

It has been a year of real progress for Timoney on the international stage, with his try-scoring debut against the USA last July, his 20-minute cameo against Argentina in November, and now winning on New Zealand soil.

Modest as ever, the 26-year-old Dubliner said of his try against the Māori: “It wasn’t much of a score, but it’s always good to get over the line. Happy enough.”

Larmour showed his undoubted finishing ability with two slick scores, firstly profiting from Earls’ quick-thinking at a lineout and then, late on, being the beneficiary of a superb skip pass from McCloskey.

A hip flexor injury came at a bad time of the season, but the Leinster flyer recaptured his best form towards the end of the United Rugby Championship campaign and is making the most of this unique tour.

Happy to be back scoring and winning in the green jersey, he said: “It’s a tough place to come and win. The Māoris really fronted up tonight. We made it hard for ourselves at times, but look, we’re delighted to get the win.

“The boys last week getting the ‘W’, we had a lot to live up tonight and we did ourselves proud. Yeah, it was class.

“Everyone’s putting their hand up (for selection), everyone’s working hard. As I said, it’s a tough play to come and win and we’re getting two wins.

“Our focus will shift towards the weekend, get the bodies right, recover and, you know, just fly into it.”

With eight tries in 12 appearances for his province this season, Larmour’s well-taken brace at the home of the Hurricanes underlined what is capable of when giving an opportunity to show his electric pace.

Admittedly though, he was slowing up by the time he copper-fastened the result for Ireland, noting: “The last try there, I was carrying a bit of a knock so I think I was going very slow!

“For the first one, I think you saw the two Māori boys, they just knocked off (in terms of concentration) and you just take your chances. It’s the small things at this level.”

As sharp as ever, Earls caught the hosts out with that short lineout ball to Larmour, who hurtled onto it to break clear and go over untouched behind the posts.

The pride was etched across his face as the 34-year-old Munster star reflected on his captaining of this ambitious young team, with victories over the Māori All Blacks in New Zealand rare enough.

Only the British & Irish Lions (2017) and Fiji (2019) have beaten the Māori at home in the last 19 years, and with players of the calibre of TJ Perenara, Brad Weber, Shaun Stevenson and Cullen Grace, it is no surprise international teams find them so hard to beat.

“Yeah, it was genuinely one of my proudest moments,” Earls said of the captaincy. “All the people back home, the place where I’m from, Limerick, rugby crazy. It was a huge honour.

“It was a huge honour to captain such a young side, inexperienced side. They’re getting their first win in an Irish jersey down in New Zealand.

“We’ve done it together, and being able to captain that side was very special.”

He added: “My phone blew up. I know Andy (Farrell) said it wasn’t a Test cap but it definitely was a proud moment to pull on an Irish jersey and lead an Irish team so I’m over the moon with it.

Craig (Casey) and ‘Frawls’ (Ciaran Frawley) at half-back just controlled the game. There were no decisions to be made out there as a captain because these three lads were leading us around the field as well.

“It’s the best bunch of lads I’ve ever been involved with, with country or club. Everyone’s quite close, everyone is champing on the bit and as Andy said, the competition is healthy but unbelievable for us as well.”

Meanwhile, Finlay Bealham is expected to be fit to be involved in Ireland’s third Test showdown with New Zealand on Saturday.

He was withdrawn from the squad to play the Māori due a tight calf, with former Leinster and Ireland prop Michael Bent taking his place on the bench and getting a few minutes under his belt during the closing stages.

Peter O’Mahony has passed his HIA 3 test, giving Farrell’s men another boost heading into the series decider at a sold-out Sky Stadium.