good habits

'It's like the start of my career again' - Earls excited for RWC stage

The Limerick man starts on Ireland’s left wing against Canada tomorrow at the World Cup.

IT DIDN’T ALWAYS look like Keith Earls would be here, but the Limerick native starts for Ireland in their opening World Cup fixture against Canada tomorrow.

Before the warm-up clash against Wales in August – when Earls impressed in the 13 shirt – his most recent Ireland appearance had come in the 2013 Six Nations. Injury after injury plagued him thereafter, but the Munster flyer is fit and in form again.

Keith Earls Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

At the age of 27, he has the 2011 World Cup, 41 Ireland caps and a Lions tour in 2009 behind him, but this opportunity on the left wing against Canada feels like a new lease of life for Earls.

“It’s happened really fast again, it’s nearly like the start of my career again,” says Earls.

“I’ve worked really hard, I set myself goals every couple of weeks. I sat down before I came back training and set myself the goal of making the 30-man [sic] squad and then set myself another goal of making the 23-man matchday squad.

I’m delighted, I’m fit and I’m healthy. I’m grateful that I’m playing on Saturday.”

Earls believes he rushed himself to get back from injuries at times during his nightmare two years, eventually realising that he had to change his mindset and be patient.

At other times, he felt he needed rest but was actually only weakening knee tendons further, when they really required more strenuous rehab. The frustration didn’t look like ending at certain points, but Earls has built himself back up.

“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get here and I’m sure my fiancée and my family are delighted it’s paid off as well, because they’ve had to put up with me training a lot.”

Keith Earls Earls warms up at Ireland training in Cardiff. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Earls’ form at the tail end of last season with Munster was strong, and he has carried that level of performance into this campaign. His excellent try-scoring display in Wales last month was followed up by another solid outing on the wing against the Welsh as Ireland lost in Dublin in the return warm-up fixture.

Of most satisfaction for Earls since his return to full health has been the improvement of his defensive game, something he has focused on.

“I think in the position I play, defensively it’s important and it’s always something I work at to try to get better at,” says Earls. “I’m not the biggest winger or the biggest centre in the world so it can be tough at times but I’m quite happy with my defence recently.

I’m starting to stick on big fellas now. I’m doing a lot of work with Kissy (Les Kiss), I’ve done a lot of work with Ian Costello in Munster. That’s one part of my job maybe where I’ve been criticised at times.

“It’s quite an important position in the field to defend and if you miss a tackle there then more than likely there’s going to be a try. I’ve been quite happy with the way I’m going at the moment.”

The key for Earls has been building good defensive habits that fire even under the pressure of a Test match. It’s partly technical, but mainly Earls says he is keen to avoid instances of reverting to the ”safety mechanism” of going in high on the big men.

Keith Earls scores a try The Munster man scored five tries at the 2011 RWC. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

He’s looking to “embrace the pressure” and maintain the good habits he has developed on the training paddock under the stress of match conditions.

As it happened, it was a tackle that saw Earls knocked out against Wales in the Aviva Stadium, leading to fears that the most unfortunate man of them all would again be denied his Ireland chance due to injury.

“According to the physios I was out cold for a couple of seconds but I came around fairly quick and it was kind of just a concussion,” says Earls of the incident.

I was in the dressing room afterwards and I was happy I could remember the game but the fact that I was out for the couple of seconds, the physios didn’t want to move me on the pitch because it’s quite important these days with neck injuries and stuff.

“It was my own fault, just getting my head (on the wrong side of the tackle), well, it was an instinct. When George North is running at you, you tend to put your head down to knock him.

“It was actually one of the first questions I asked the doctor, ‘Did I knock him?’ That was the main thing for me but, yeah, I came around fully.”

Earls will look to knock many more big men in the coming weeks, while taking his own chances with ball in hand.

Conor Murray plays down concussion concerns ahead of World Cup opener

Willing ‘servant’ Henderson has form and athleticism to shine on rugby’s biggest stage

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.