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Starting Keith Earls at outside-centre with Bundee Aki inside him could be exactly what Ireland need, according to Ronan O’Gara.

The former Ireland international was speaking on Monday Night Rugby and dismissed the idea that Ireland’s starting centre partnership would automatically revert back to Aki and Robbie Henshaw now that Garry Ringrose is injured.

“I’d be interested in where they play Keith Earls. So for me, he’s a guaranteed in the seven [starting backs]. It’s non-negotiable. He plays when he’s fit.

“He’s earned the right to do that. Aki and Earls could be a lovely foil. Earlsey running lines off of his offloads - that’s very interesting.

“His acceleration is better than anyone’s in the Irish squad. You might see Addison at 15 and you might see Larmour on the wing,” O’Gara said.

Conor Murray vs John Cooney

The former Munster man also backed Conor Murray to again start for Ireland against Wales, despite a mediocre performance from him against Scotland, believing a big game is coming from the scrum-half.

“It keeps going back to what is best for the team. For me, yes [Conor Murray should start.] I know the character well and I think there is going to be a reaction.

“He hasn’t had a pack in front of him for Munster winning collisions. The ball hasn’t been really quick. There’s a big step up from playing for Munster to playing for Ireland in a Six Nations game. Do not underestimate that.

“Am I completely biased? I am. I’ve no problem with stating that but I think knowing him very well and knowing his game, I think maybe up to now he might not have appreciated that his position was under threat.

“I think he realises now that this noise isn’t going away. [John] Cooney is coming after him and coming hard,” O’Gara commented.

The La Rochelle coach has been impressed by the Ulster number nine as of late but believes that his game management skills are not yet on par with Murray’s.

“The [Ulster] game against Clermont over there - it tests you. That’s a brilliant stadium for aspiring test players because it’s everyone against you. Parra is your opposite man and he’s a good barometer.

“I was probably unnecessarily harsh against him that day but I was looking to pick holes in his performance and I found a few. But I thought he was very, very composed on Saturday.

“If he keeps doing what he’s doing, unless Conor changes or finds that extra percentage he needs, there will be a change,” O’Gara said.

Ireland take on Wales at the Aviva Stadium at 2.15pm with both sides looking to make it two wins from two in this year’s Six Nations.

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Conor Murray Ireland John Cooney Keith Earls Ronan O'Gara Six Nations Wales

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