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Dublin: 11°C Saturday 27 February 2021

'My wife thought I was going to have a heart attack with the state I was' - Earls

The Ireland wing is more relaxed than ever about a World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand.

AT THE AGE of 32, Keith Earls reckons he’s feeling physically better than ever and he’s putting it down to the onsen baths in Japan.

Stripping off and having a good soak in the communal baths – which are generally split into separate male and female areas – is a big part of Japanese culture and the Ireland squad have embraced it at their hotels during this World Cup.

keith-earls Earls is a big fan of the Japanese onsen. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A knee issue pre-dating this tournament has troubled Earls at times, but the bad back he’s had for the last two years has cleared. The Munster man is convinced that’s due to chilling out in the onsen.

“They’re great, the Japanese, with their hot baths where you can go and relax,” says the Ireland wing.

“I said I’d try and keep myself around the younger lads. Myself, Jordan [Larmour], Jacob [Stockdale], Murr [Conor Murray], we’d be down there in the hot baths.

“It’s amazing the kind of chats you would get down there. You’d be chatting about players or about training, and all of a sudden there’s a load of detail having been spoken inside there.”

The backline brains trust meetings are clearly working a treat, with Earls happy to share the wisdom of his experience with any younger players who ask.

Earls is not one for shouting and roaring but he’s a leader in this Ireland team in a more subtle way, both on and off the pitch. Now with a young family of his own, the Moyross man is far more mature than he was at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.

Indeed, Earls shakes his head as he recalls how worked-up he used to get himself before games. Even as Ireland prepare to face the All Blacks in a World Cup quarter-final in Tokyo on Saturday, Earls feels chilled out.

“It’s my third World Cup and that probably all comes with experience. I’m really enjoying this week, I’m a bit more relaxed. It’s another game, isn’t it?

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tj-ioane-tackles-keith-earls Earls in action against Samoa. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s just against the reigning world champions and it’s going to be a massive challenge but if we’re to test ourselves and want to go on to achieve great things, we’re going to have to play them at some stage.

“Back in 2011, I probably would have changed something during the week, something ridiculous like changing my diet or changing my routine or trying to get it better. Now I have a good routine and I prefer to be way more relaxed.

“I think that comes from doing all of my homework, looking at our detail, looking at their plays. The biggest thing is if you prepare as well as you can and can look yourself in a mirror after a game, that’s all you can do. Win, lose or draw, it doesn’t matter if you can do that.”

Now that he’s one of the wiser heads in the Ireland squad, Earls regrets not drawing on the experience of the likes of Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara in years gone by.

“I probably didn’t use the lads enough, I probably didn’t ask them enough questions because it probably would have been seen as being mentally weak back then.

“I think now we’re a lot more open-minded, it’s alright for fellas to be nervous. If you’re not nervous, there’s something wrong with you. Nerves are good because it means you care, it’s trying to use those nerves as a positive rather than a negative.

“I’d be open if they [younger players] come up and ask me any questions about it, I’d have no problem telling me them about my experiences in the past.

“I remember the French game, the last group game a couple of years ago [in 2015], I felt violently ill all week going into it. It was ridiculous. After that game, I said to myself I’d never leave myself get to that stage again.

keith-earls Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“My wife thought I was going to have a heart attack with the state I was in and I’ve learned to deal with that.”

With that in mind, Earls is content to build up to facing the All Blacks in a calm headspace, knowing that if Ireland get their part right, they have a fine chance of making a first-ever World Cup semi-final.

“We all know it’s going to be a massive challenge, but in the back of our heads, the aura they bring, we’re not going to be scared of that,” he says.

“We know it’s going to be a huge challenge but we know that if we get things right we are capable of beating them.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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