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Dublin: -1°C Monday 1 March 2021

'We're not going into our shell or worrying, I think a lot of people outside are'

Keith Earls says Ireland will ‘be back to themselves soon enough’ as Joe Schmidt’s side bid to finish the Six Nations strongly.

NO ONE BETTER within these four walls to bring a timely sense of perspective, the softly-spoken Keith Earls a voice of reason and reality when there is much talk about nothing filling the space around him.

“I know we haven’t been ourselves but we’re creating a lot and it’s going to have to click at some stage,” the Munster winger says at the Carton House top table, the latest player to be quizzed on why Ireland have not yet fully fired during this Six Nations championship.

Keith Earls Earls speaking to media at Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We feel we’re training well but when we get out on the field on game day, we’re making a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes. All we can do is keep going and try to better ourselves and preparing.”

The bottom line is that Ireland are close. Granted, the three sub-standard performances in this campaign hitherto have left a lot to be desired and have been cause for concern in their own right, but the message has been clear: Schmidt’s side are not far off.

There have been a litany of reasons suggested for Ireland’s dip in form at the start of 2019, yet the underlying factor has been their failure to replicate a clinical accuracy and intensity which was the hallmark of their Grand Slam success last year. Basic mistakes have led to huge frustration. 

But, in that sense, Earls stresses there is no reason to make any dramatic changes in a bid to rediscover top form.

“We haven’t changed anything,” he continues. “It’s a strange game. Bar New Zealand, teams go up and down. That’s just the life of rugby.

“We’re not getting frustrated. We’re not going into our shell or worrying, I think a lot of people outside the circle are.

“I think it’s just a little pothole we’re hitting but if we get one or two more passes away, we score a lot more tries. Take the small mistakes out of it and we’ll get back to ourselves soon enough.

We just stick with the process and the plan. No game plan has changed, no meetings or panic is happening. It’s just the way it is.

Ignoring the public inquest into the off-colour performances and the potential reasons for Ireland’s poor form, Earls — who is set to win his 76th cap against France this weekend — is never one to get carried away when things are good and equally when things are bad.

The Limerick native says: “I know the way we’ve been going, everyone expects us to blow every team out of the water now but that’s not the case.

“Being number two in the world, everyone is going to try everything at you. In Italy last week, [after] one or two injuries, I had to go into the centre. I hadn’t played there in a while.

The Ireland team huddle The Ireland squad after Wednesday's session. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“There were one or two little distractions like that. It’s no excuse, the Italians are a good side and I still think they’ll shock someone in this championship. Conor [O'Shea] has been doing a great job with them.

“I can’t quite put my finger on it. We’re just sticking to the process and the game plan and it’s going to have to click at some stage.

“There’s definitely no pressure with us. There honestly is no pressure in the circle. We don’t really care about the number two and rankings. It’s great to be there but every game is challenging and has its own pressure. The competition is huge and the way the countries are going at the moment, I think a lot of teams can beat any team on their day.”

Ireland will be particularly wary of a dangerous French side, who arrive in Dublin unchanged from their victory over Scotland last time out.

“They’re flying it, they’re definitely on the up,” Earls adds, with the likes of Yoann Huget, Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud set to pose a real threat for Jacques Brunel’s side at the Aviva Stadium.

“They have a lot of young lads who have come in and brought a freshness to it, with a lot of experience lads as well. Huget, who’s quite experienced, has come in and he’s found form again.

“So we definitely can’t afford the mistakes that we’ve been making or else we could be behind the sticks quite a bit.

“It’s all about ourselves, about winning the game, no matter how you do it. The coaches have given us a good plan and we’ve trained well the last two days so for us it’s just all about how we train and bringing it on to the field.”

Therein lies this week’s challenge.

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Ryan Bailey

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