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The influential Keith Earls finally gets the reward his brilliance deserves

The 30-year-old was outstanding throughout Ireland’s Grand Slam success.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

NOTHING WAS GOING to stop Keith Earls from doing his lap of honour with his two beloved daughters, Laurie and Ella May.

Limping heavily and clearly exhausted after another brilliant performance for Ireland over 73 minutes, the Limerick man wanted to soak in every moment of the Grand Slam success in Twickenham.

Keith Earls celebrates with his daughters Ella May and Laurie Keith Earls with his two daughters. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Everyone involved with Ireland was obviously delighted, but this will have felt a little bit more meaningful to Earls.

He was part of Ireland’s wider Six Nations squad way back in 2009 when they won Ireland’s second Grand Slam, but he was never involved on the pitch that year.

Earls later had to watch on as Ireland won Six Nations titles under Joe Schmidt in 2014 and 2015, his injury troubles robbing him of the chance to earn medals with Ireland as a member of the starting XV.

Because whenever he has been fit, Earls has been a key man for Schmidt – underlined by his sheer brilliance over the course of this year’s Six Nations.

I spoke to Earlsy briefly, and I said to him, ‘This would be your third if you had just glued yourself together a bit earlier,’” said Joe Schmidt post-match at Twickenham yesterday.

“It wasn’t for me lacking the want to pick him, it’s just that he had a few mistimed injuries and that can happen to a player.

“It was fantastic to have him and for him to get his due reward. He’s been really super for us, and I don’t just mean on the pitch.

“I think that’s very visible on the pitch, how sharp he looks, but also off the pitch. He really leads by example, he’s very professional in what he does, prepares really well, communicates well with those younger players.

Rory Best and Keith Earls celebrate winning Ireland captain Rory Best with Earls. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He’s certainly been a catalyst for some confidence and improvement in that back three.”

Taking care of his own performances first has been key for Earls and while he has done so much unglamorous hard work of the kind that Schmidt loves, the Munster man has also had some stunning moments.

His leap and gather of Johnny Sexton’s cross-kick before the famous drop goal in Paris stands out, as does the tap tackle yesterday, while his footwork to destroy Leigh Halfpenny against Wales and his sensational track-back tackle in the dying moments of the win over Italy are also snippets for the highlights reel.

Athletically in a better place than he has ever been, the 30-year-old has been devastatingly good for Ireland.

As Schmidt stressed, Earls has been influential around the squad too and, so happy with his family life, entirely comfortable in speaking up and helping others.

“Incredibly important,” says 21-year-old try-scoring sensation Jacob Stockdale when he’s asked what kind of influence Earls has had on him since coming into the Ireland set-up.

“Me and Earlsy have played on the wings together since my first cap. To have that experience on the other side of the pitch, him telling me what I need to do, it’s invaluable.

“He’s a great guy, I love the bloke as well.”

Keith Earls celebrates winning with his daughters Ella May and Laurie A Grand Slam champion. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

20-year-old Jordan Larmour, who came on at outside centre for Ireland yesterday, echoed Stockdale’s sentiment.

“He’s been massive,” said Larmour. “Anything I need help with, him and Rob Kearney, everyone really, if I have a question, I’ll just go to them and ask them.

“Even looking at they go about their work and how they play, I try take some of that into my game.”

The big concern for Munster fans is how badly injured Earls is – with their Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulon on 31 March now looming in view.

Schmidt said afterwards that Earls wasn’t bouncing around the changing room with the rest of the players, “but he’s not a bounce-around guy, only on the pitch, which he does a good job of.”

It remains to be seen how serious Earls’ injury is but for now the sheer happiness Ireland’s players, coaches and supporters have to see him finally earn his Six Nations medal as a key starting player is palpable.

As he limped around Twickenham with his two daughters – one on his shoulders and the other holding his hand at one point – it was impossible not to share in the feeling.

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Murray Kinsella

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