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"Since he's had a child he's been relaxed, like: 'What have I been worrying about all along?'"

Keith Earls says he can see a huge difference in Ian Keatley of late.

Munster's Ian Keatley kicks a late penalty.
Munster's Ian Keatley kicks a late penalty.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MASSIVE EFFORTS HAVE been made over the past two decades to establish how to get the best out of professional rugby players, but Munster and Ireland wing Keith Earls reckons they flourish when they become parents.

The 30-year old says he can see a huge difference in Ian Keatley since the out-half became a father and Earls believes that parenthood helps to give players a better perspective.

“I’m enjoying rugby in general. I suppose I used to think it was everything, rugby, but when you really think about it, it doesn’t really mean that much to you. Why would you get worked up about it?

“Obviously, you’re passionate about it and you want to go out and achieve things and give your best every time, but at the end of the day, it’s only a small thing in life.”

“Even Keats at the moment as well. Since he’s had a child he’s been relaxed, like ‘what have I been worrying about all along?’

The lads in the squad who’ve had kids now as well, I think that’s we’re playing so well, we’ve so many kids around that fellas don’t care anymore! I think that’s it, we’re all enjoying it and it’s easier when you’re enjoying it.”

Earls is itching to get back after being out since before the November internationals with a hamstring injury and is looking forward to taking on Leinster in front of a capacity crowd at Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day.

Earls, who has scored 41 tries in 143 appearances for Munster and has notched up 62 caps for Ireland, said he can’t recall a time when all four provinces were coming into the festive derbies on the back of so many good European displays.

No, I can’t remember it, but it’s brilliant. It just shows where Irish rugby is at, at the moment, and the competition within squads and international camp is phenomenal and credit to all coaches and the teams, it’s been brilliant.

“Three massive games, Leinster on St Stephen’s Day is going to be huge. It’s my second time this year coming back from injury having to player Leinster. You feel it after it.

“It’s the closest thing you can get to a European game and sometimes even closer to an international so that’s going to be a massive challenge and I’ll just focus on that and focus on myself and hopefully then the weeks coming will lead to good things.”

He’s thrilled that CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony have committed their future to Munster.

“Knowing their personalities and who they are I’d like to think that they wouldn’t have left. I always stay positive but you just don’t know what’s going on in people’s heads or with their families or what’s going on behind the doors for them to make a decision if they wanted to leave.

“I think where Irish rugby is now, at the moment, it’s quite good to stay.”

The recent injury to the Irish winger has opened the door for Irish sevens player Alex Wootton to seize his opportunity on the wing for Munster, and Earls has been impressed by the Macclesfield native.

Yeah, he’s flying it. He’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s been around a couple of years now, worked hard. He’s been on the sevens circuit with the lads and is phenomenally fit and still a young lad. He’s learning loads as well and he wants to learn, which is great. He’s taking his chances well and it’s another fella we have to compete with and it’s another fella we enjoy working with every day.”

So, has Wootton any children? Is he another example of Earls’ belief about parenthood helping professional rugby players?

No, no! We won’t do that to him yet,” laughed Earls. “He’s just bought a house though, so he might get stressed!

“He’s a great fella to have on the squad, there’s a great buzz and we’re all hopping off each other.”

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