Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# 8
Earls glad to see Foley remembered with 'phenomenal' tribute in front of Haka
“Axel’s never going to be forgotten. There isn’t a day goes by when we don’t think of him.”

Ireland team face the Haka in a shape of eight in memory of Anthony Foley of Munster INPHO / Billy Stickland INPHO / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

COMING UP WITH ways to face the challenge laid down by New Zealand’s haka has led most teams to controversy over the years.

Ireland, however, struck the perfect chord on Saturday; standing stoically 20 metres from Kieran Read’s point of the triangle.

New Zealand were doing their own thing, so Ireland had the opportunity to honour their own history and culture. Forming a figure of eight to salute Anthony Foley, a man who embodied the rugby culture on this island.

“It was unbelievable,” Keith Earls said in Carton House today.

“I wasn’t even thinking about anything like that leading up tot he game. Axel’s passed a couple of weeks now and you felt that things were moving on, people were trying to move on. Then just to see that was phenomenal.

For Axel’s family it was great that everyone is still thinking about him even though there’s matches going on.”

“Axel’s never going to be forgotten. There isn’t a day goes by when we don’t think of him. A lot of Munster players, a lot of Ireland players, have him to thank. He’s the one who started this journey, especially in Munster, he drove it from the start.

“With Ireland: he got 60 odd caps, captained his country a few times, the competitor he was… he’ll be forever in our thoughts.”

Earls missed out on being part of the Munster-fronted figure eight through suspension.

The Limerick man took a two-week ban and a straight red card for a first-half tip tackle in Munster’s incredibly emotional Champions Cup win over Glasgow Warriors.

It has been largely forgotten about in the haze of Saturday’s historic victory, but it strikes us that Joe Moody’s tip tackle on Robbie Henshaw after just seven minutes in Chicago was at least equally (but surely more) worthy of a red card than Earls’ two weeks before.

Moody went to the sin-bin instead of the shower, and the All Blacks continued a long run of avoiding red cards.

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Keith Earls Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

It’s better to make history against 15 men than 14 men with excuses, but the room for interpretation of offences at the top level of rugby remains a serious frustration.

“It is what it is I suppose,” Earls says, taking the democratic approach so that he can  move beyond his ban.

“Look, my red card’s in the past now. I won’t dwell on it. He got 10 minutes, that’s what the referee and TMO thought on the day.

Unbelievable game, unbelievable game for the country. I was delighted. The boys played well. Some of the individual performances were some of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Outstanding performances which have not only given a massive surge in confidence and joy to an Ireland squad three weeks on from Foley’s death, but to everyone who loves to watch them win.

“It’s given the whole country, no matter what you’re doing, a lift.

“We’re after taking down the world champions. No matter what sport, no matter what job you have, it’s given the country massive belief that – no matter how small a country we are – if we prepare right and do our homework then anyone can achieve big things.”

Including, the warnings go, Canada. Mark Anscombe’s Canucks will be the ones trying to spoil the Saturday night homecoming party in the Aviva Stadium. Returning to the fold after missing a landmark day has Earls firmly focused on the task ahead.

Keith Earls and Anthony Foley Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It would mean everything (to play). Every international, no matter who it’s against, is great.

“Please God I’ll get the nod. If I get my chance I won’t be trying to do anything special. I’ll not be going out there to play as an individual, I’ll do what I have to do to make other felllas on the team look better. Hopefully that gets noticed and hopefully we get a result.”

Earls will keep moving on, but not without remembering the man who helped him get there.

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