Six Nations: Mentally drained Ireland suffer Earls injury blow

Ireland's Keith Earls, scoring a try during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, is a doubt for Saturday's Dublin finale.
Ireland's Keith Earls, scoring a try during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, is a doubt for Saturday's Dublin finale.
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Keith Earls has become a doubt for Ireland’s RBS Six Nations finale with England in Dublin on Saturday due to a groin injury.

Earls sat out training yesterday, leaving Ulster’s Jared Payne ready to step into Ireland’s backline if the Munster player cannot recover.

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek backed Earls to return to training tomorrow, but Joe Schmidt usually wants his starting squad to complete the Tuesday session before a Saturday match.

Feek insisted Ireland’s galling 22-9 loss in Wales will not derail head coach Schmidt’s approach, with England hunting a second-successive Grand Slam and world-record 19th consecutive win, at the Aviva Stadium.

“Keith Earls has slight groin tightness,” said Feek.

“He’ll be training on Thursday, we’re just giving him an extra bit of time.

“Johnny (Sexton) and Conor (Murray) trained (yesterday). They were pretty good, they got through it.

“With Jared, you’ve got to look at the weekend, where he would slot in, how he’s tracking physically and where he is with everything else.

“He’s a great guy to have even just in camp, let alone out on the field.

“We’ll just wait and see. There’s a few guys there with a few bumps.

“He’s always an option, and if he’s fully fit and things like that, then that would be even more of a headache.”

Earls has proved one of Schmidt’s most trusted backline operators, becoming a regular feature on Ireland’s wing.

The 29-year-old’s possible absence could open the door for a return for Payne, who has only just recovered from kidney damage suffered in November.

Ireland will fight to avoid defeat to all three home nations rivals in one championship for the first time since 1998, following their comprehensive loss in Wales.

“We were disappointed in Cardiff, and I think there’s an emotional effect afterwards, a mental and physical fatigue,” admitted Feek.