'I heard a crack in my neck and thought about my kids straight away'

Keith Earls said he felt genuine fear before being forced off in Munster’s defeat to Leinster.

JUST AFTER THE half-hour mark in Munster’s defeat to Leinster on 27 December, Thomond Park fell into a deeply concerned hush.

The silence was eerie.

Keith Earls lay prone on the ground after his neck collided with the leg of Eoin Reddan just as the Munster wing had offloaded out of Luke Fitzgerald’s tackle.

Keith Earls down injured after been tackled from Luke Fitzgerald and Zane Kirchner Earls feared the worst at first. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The worry all around the Limerick stadium was that 28-year-old Earls had suffered a serious injury, either to his head or the neck region. One can only imagine how the Munster man’s family and friends felt, and Earls himself says it was a scary few minutes.

“I’m good now,” says Earls. “It wasn’t too serious thankfully. Whatever way I landed, I think I hit Redser’s shin and I heard a crack in my neck and thought about my kids straight away. I said, ‘I better lay still here.’

“The lads got out to me then and went through a few bits and I could move my hands. I didn’t have any weird feelings, just a small bit of tightness in my chest, but I think that was more like a panic attack after hearing the crack in my neck.

Thankfully everything was fine. I told them I was fine and could I get up but they said, ‘No, once you’ve heard a crack we’re not going to let you get up.’ I went out and got x-rays and I literally was showering with some of the lads then [following the game].”

The image of Earls back in the Munster changing room after having been taken to Limerick Regional Hospital were warmly greeted by supporters who know the injury pain Earls has been through in his career.

Earls admits he was shook up by the incident, but also jokes that his father, Ger, was quick to slag him when it transpired that all was well.

“Yeah, a bit embarrassed as well,” says Earls. “The auld man wasn’t happy when there was nothing wrong with me!”

Whatever about the joking within the family, Earls underlines that he feared the worst when he heard the crack in his neck.

He is now back in full training with Munster and is expected to start Saturday’s Champions Cup meeting with Stade Français, but the initial negative thoughts were that he was facing a far lengthier recovery.

Keith Earls goes off injured Earls gave Thomond Park a thumbs up as he left the pitch. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Yeah it was, it was scary hearing the crack,” says Earls. “As I said, I just thought of my family straight away and thankfully my father, if he had hair he would have lost it. I could see when he came down to see me he was devastated. I gave them all a bit of a fright but thankfully it was all good.”

Earls greatly appreciated the rousing cheer Munster and Leinster “came together” for as he exited the pitch, while his thumbs up on the stretcher was a welcome sign for fiancée Edel and Earls’ daughters.

“My fiancée wasn’t at the game,” says Earls. “One of the kids were at home sick with a chest infection so she wasn’t at the game. It was just to let them know I was ok.”

Aside from scans clearing Earls of anything potentially serious in the neck area, there was also relief in that fact that he missed only one game and is now back in full training.

Earls’ extensive injury history is well documented, but he is now on a lengthy run without any major spells on the sidelines. Indeed, he appears to be more confident in his athletic ability than at any point in his career.

It’s great,” says Earls. “I came back last year in January and I am going nearly a full year, which is great. I suppose I have gotten to know my body. With the knee, it kept breaking down but I have gotten to know my body now.

“If I have an issue now I will say it to the coaches, ‘Look, I need to sort this out, I don’t want to be training half injured.’ Thankfully, I haven’t even had to do that, so I have complete faith in my body now which is great.”

The result has been some of the best form of his career too, with Earls breaking Brian O’Driscoll’s try-scoring record at World Cups for Ireland last year when he scored three and started all five games under Joe Schmidt.

Keith Earls Earls is in confident form at present. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

He was back in Ireland camp earlier this week for a 24-hour stint under Schmidt at Carton House, but explains that he had feared missing out on the World Cup altogether at one point.

“I was delighted. When I got my knee done and came back in January, you are setting goals and they are all kinda small goals just to get me through the rest of the season.

“Then, when I came back that summer, I had goals to get into Joe’s 30-man squad, give myself the best opportunity to make that squad and then into his 23 and then into his starting XV. It all came good for me.

But it goes back to having confidence again in my body. I had a great routine with my weights and rehab-wise and studying my detail. It just let me play on the weekend then, which was great.”

Earls must now pick up where he left off against Leinster before the neck injury, creating openings for Munster as they look to ramp up their attacking effectiveness against Stade Français on Saturday.

Lose and Munster’s European knock-out hopes are extinguished. A fit, confident Earls will be key.

“The pressure is on,” says the Limerick man. “It’s a new and big pressure for the squad that we have right now. Probably a couple of years ago Munster would have been used to it but this is probably, for this squad, the biggest game of our Munster careers.” 

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