Earls eager to match up to the number one 13
PRO 12 LEINSTER v MUNSTER:“TRISKAIDEKAPHOBIA” is emblazoned on the official Leinster supporters’ club commemorative tee-shirts that pay homage to Brian O’Driscoll. A fear of the number 13 is a superstition that inveigles its way into the consciousness of many; Munster’s Keith Earls isn’t one.
That’s one piseog that he’s happy to dispute.
Rather than view 13 as a harbinger of misfortune, he has identified the number, or more accurately the role behind it, as his heart’s desire in a sporting context.
He’s explained his feelings to Ireland coach Declan Kidney and more recently to new Munster’s Rob Penney, a fact he acknowledged in a newspaper interview earlier in the season.
He stated: “I spoke to Rob and let him know the position I prefer and he sees me as a 13 as well. He knows 13 is my favourite position even if, at times, we might have to adjust.
“You can’t be that selfish when it comes to a team and Rob said he’d do his best without promising anything.
“There was a time when I was happy to have a jersey. I was learning the game. It’s not always me playing 13, I don’t mind playing 12. Responsibility, decision making and organising around me is what I want.”
Earls, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday, gets an opportunity this evening at the Aviva Stadium to substantiate his words with deeds.
He plays alongside Casey Laulala against Fergus McFadden and O’Driscoll; the latter the best outside centre in world rugby for over a decade.
The latter may be 33 but the Irish captain’s appetite and ability to positively influence a match remains largely undiminished. O’Driscoll has successfully evolved and intelligently adapted the way he plays the game while retaining the capacity to be a match winner.
He knows and understands the ambition and desire that Earls harbours but he’ll aggressively resist any overtures to relinquish his green jersey.
There are too many variables in a rugby match to rigorously personalise their duel. They may collide less than a dozen times over the 80 minutes.
Twice in the past they have worn the number 13 jersey when opposing each other for their respective provinces.
The first occasion was the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park, a match Leinster won 25-6. O’Driscoll grabbed an intercept try and also collected the man-of-the-match accolade.
The most recent was the last times these teams met, in a RaboDirect Pro 12 encounter at Thomond Park, back in March, where Leinster prevailed by a score of 18-9.
The November Test series is looming when Ireland take on South Africa, Fiji and Argentina with crucial world ranking points at stake ahead of the 2015 World Cup draw that takes place in December.
The coefficient for losing at home is quite debilitating.
Provincial spats at this point in the season carry added weight in a Test context.
O’Driscoll and Earls played together as a midfield combination in New Zealand during the summer and may do so again in the future but if the Limerick man wants to lend credence to his ambition in relation to the number 13 jersey, he’ll be measured against the best: much like tonight in Dublin.