Earls setting different routine and is ready to take flight


Newer, more relaxed player is starting to emerge this season, writes GERRY THORNLEY

Keith Earls has always been something of a tortured soul, not only fretting and worrying about his own game but also, of course, his preferred position. Maybe it’s fatherhood to Ella May last January, but a newer, more relaxed model is starting to emerge this season.

For starters, this season he decided to do away with his pre-match rituals, albeit with limited success. “I used to have three different rosary beads and a medal, and I’m kissing them three times, or I have to kiss one four times – this kind of craic. I just gave it all up. It was driving me mad. If I had forgotten my rosary beads, I’d think, ‘oh, I can’t play now’, but they’re all gone out the window.”

A visit to the training camp at the start of the month by some Irish boxers, and specifically some advice from Kenny Egan, also struck a cord. “Kenny Egan was saying that he’s laughing and joking 15 minutes before he goes out and boxes. Once his 15 minutes comes up, he’s just thinking about the fight then, but previously up to that he’s joking and I kind of took that on.”

“Sometimes I’d just try to have a different routine and not think about the game, because when I think about it I drive myself mad. So I prefer to just turn up on the bus and then go out and play the game. That’s the kinda thing I’m trying to take on board, and it seems to be working.

Just laughing about

“I head off into the warm-up area there and if there’s tennis balls around, I’m kicking them against the wall or playing a game of handball up against the wall and with a bit of music then as well, just laughing about.

“I might just go into my pictures and look at my family and daughter, stuff like that, it keeps your mind off it.”

“I thought if the lads saw me kicking around a tennis ball, they’d think this fella isn’t clued in but Kenny said you have to do what makes you right. He says he doesn’t like to think about it until 15 minutes beforehand, he has a bit of a routine. And I feel I’m a bit of an instinct player and I just like to get out there and play, without thinking too much.”

Having notified us he has banned all questioning about his liking or otherwise for the left wing, he also feels more at ease in the squad and more inclined to speak up after 33 caps (and a dozen Test tries) even if, at 25, he’s suddenly beginning to feel like a relative veteran.

“It’s not great because they’re making me look like a senior player now!”

Physically, he was also surprised to feel so good against the Springboks given it was his first game in five weeks. “I feel great and I’ve been training hard on the pitch and doing a bit of extra stepping and stuff. I hadn’t been feeling very explosive in the first few games of the Rabo League so I’ve gone back to concentrating on my stepping.”

There were a couple of good examples of his superb footwork against South Africa. although as he also noted in reference to being hauled down by Francois Louw, “yeah, but it’s not good when a backrow is catching you as well.”

Although Earls has always been noted for his wheels, he also revealed Simon Zebo is the quickest player in the squad. “Zebs has been clocking up some serious times, I think he’s recorded as the fastest man in Irish rugby now because we’ve had the GPS on.”

But for all the good vibescoming from the camp, the result next Saturday will effectively define Ireland’s autumnal campaign, and it’s clear the heightened importance of the ranking points at stake hasn’t altered the view of this benchmark game.

“We haven’t really spoken about the rankings, we’ve spoken about ourselves. We need this victory a lot. Obviously we beat Fiji at the weekend, but for ourselves, going forward, we need a big performance and we need to click.”

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