Keith Earls and Joe Schmidt in 2018. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Inside knowledge

'We're certainly not the same team that played under Joe' - Earls

Keith Earls explains how Ireland have evolved since Andy Farrell took over from Joe Schmidt.

FIRST SOME GOOD news. Keith Earls is feeling confident about being fit and available for Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final date with New Zealand on Saturday.

The winger was put up for media duty yesterday and provided a positive update on his fitness as Ireland also offered encouraging news on Mack Hansen and James Lowe.  

“I’m good,” Earls said. “Obviously I picked up a small bit of a niggle in the last couple of days, but I was back running again yesterday (Sunday), and looking to push it on a bit more today and during the next couple of days. It’s all positive.”

Earls’ involvement on Saturday will likely depend on how Hansen and Lowe come through the week but Andy Farrell would have no hesitation in selecting the experienced winger for such a high stakes game.

The first time Earls faced down the Haka came back in 2008, when he had just turned 21. Over 77,000 spectators were in Croke Park to watch Ma’a Nonu and Brad Thorn score tries in a 22-3 win for New Zealand.

“It was a surreal experience, I had grown up watching them,” he recalled.

They have conquered the world of rugby since I was a young lad, and I think it was only up until last year that we didn’t really understand what the Haka meant.

“It can come across as quite intimidating but speaking to Rua Tipoki down in New Zealand last year, he let us know the inside of a Haka and what it means, and how we can draw from our ancestors and our family as well.

“It’s not meant to intimidate, it’s a tradition of theirs and we have to look at it, it’s how they are looking at it as well, we are going into war as well as a battle. We draw on our families and stuff from that as well.”

keith-earls Earls hopes to be fit to face New Zealand on Saturday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The All Blacks don’t have quite the same aura these days thanks to Ireland’s impressive recent run of results against them. Since recording that historic first win in Chicago in 2016, Ireland have won four from seven against New Zealand. Still, there’s something special about playing New Zealand in a World Cup knockout game and while Ian Foster’s men are big news in Paris this week, Earls explains that this Ireland squad won’t be overawed by the occasion as they bid to reach the semi finals for the first time.

“I still think they’re a world-class team, I think the view is different on ourselves (since 2016).

“As Irish people we can lack a lot of confidence and can be, I suppose, a small bit too humble at times.

You know, we’ve done an awful lot of work on ourselves and the coaches have done an awful lot of work on getting us to believe that we can play a certain brand of rugby that will make us compete with anyone in the world.

“So I think that was the most important thing for us, getting us to start believing in ourselves, that the rugby that we can play, if we can get it right on any day – which we have shown over the last number of years – that we can compete with and beat most teams.”

Of course, the man who first led Ireland to success against New Zealand will be in the other coaching box this weekend. Joe Schmidt’s presence in Ian Foster’s coaching team adds yet another fascinating aspect to what will be a box-office night at the Stade de France.

On Sunday, Foster said New Zealand have been tapping into Schmidt’s info for the past 12 months but Earls feels Ireland have evolved since Andy Farrell took charge in 2020.

“I don’t think Joe would know anything about this squad,” he continued.

“We are completely different squad. He probably knows things about individuals but, again, we have all changed our habits under this coaching staff and we genuinely don’t use any of the habits that Joe taught us. Look, he might have a thing on a couple of individuals but we are certainly not the same team that played under Joe.”

joe-schmidt-with-keith-earls Earls was a key player during Schmidt's time in charge. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Earls was a key man for Schmidt, and the Kiwi coach left a lasting impression on the Limerick native. Yesterday, Earls was asked to highlight the area of his game where he felt Schmidt had the greatest influence.

“I suppose dealing with pressure, really. Not even dealing with pressure but showing me how to prepare right for a game so I don’t feel nervous or pressure because you are prepared and you are not leaving everything until the last minute.

“He made me think about the game differently and how important it is for 1-15 and 1-23 to be prepared and in sync for a team to win. He helped us get the maximum out of the talent that we had.”

Farrell has managed to bring the group further on again. Never has an Ireland team looked so well placed to make history at a World Cup. Saturday will be the biggest game yet under Farrell, but Earls explains the squad’s body of work over the past couple of seasons has instilled a strong sense of belief among the players. 

“I suppose it’s the journey we have been on really, the last number of years, the last two or three years under Andy, and what we have achieved, the places where we have gone, the places we have won, and obviously the competitions we have won as well.

“So, yeah, there is some good confidence there. I suppose the consistency of our performances has been really good, and the challenge that comes on Saturday against New Zealand, I have no doubt they will be highly emotional and looking for revenge, and bring everything they have.” 

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