Keith Earls in a good place ahead of defining Six Nations endgame
Maturing winger believes communication is key to keeping Scotland at bay on Saturday
‘The last 18 months is probably the most I have enjoyed rugby since I was about 13 years of age.’ Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Keith Earls is in a good headspace, so to speak, something he attributes to working with world renowned hypnotist and mentalist Keith Barry, and while in Ireland camp, Enda McNulty. It’s about decluttering the mind to allow a sharper focus on the things that matter, a more attuned perspective on and off the pitch.
Most people strive for an ideal work/life balance and professional sportspeople are no different. The 30-year-old Munster centre admitted: “The last 18 months is probably the most I have enjoyed rugby since I was about 13 years of age. When you’re enjoying something and it doesn’t seem like work you enjoy it a lot more. It is our job, but we think it is everything, which it isn’t.”
It’s been reflected in a series of outstanding performances for Munster and Ireland. A try against Italy represented a 27th for his country and put him fourth on the all-time list, two behind Denis Hickie (29) and three adrift of Tommy Bowe (30); Brian O’Driscoll’s tally (46) is still some way off.
Earls is better able now than at any time in his career to deal with the goldfish bowl of expectation. He explained: “As I am getting older I am trying to find the one per cents (gains) between diet, psychology and the visualisation; I have been working a bit with Keith Barry as well, just trying to get the one per cents, which seem to be working.
“I don’t want to get into the detail but he (Barry) knows the brain better than anyone and (the work we are doing) is just in terms of visualisation and stuff like that. It’s down to everything, diet, looking after myself, having the balance of family life and work and then working on the mental side with him. Enda (McNulty) is here (in Ireland camp) and working with him, combining it all together (is beneficial).”
On Saturday, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is likely to restore Garry Ringrose to the starting team, becoming the third incumbent in the green number 13 jersey to date in the Six Nations Championship following injuries to the unfortunate Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell.
Ringrose has had his share of injury woes, double shoulder surgery and a high ankle sprain, that has greatly curtailed his playing season. Earls though pointed out that the 23-year-old Leinster centre has taken the time from his enforced sabbatical to return bigger and stronger and that Ringrose has “been training the last two weeks with us and it doesn’t look like he’s been out long. He’s still sharp, causing havoc.
“We’ve been unfortunate to lose Robbie and Chris. They’re two world class players, but we’ve another world class player coming in so we’ve been quite blessed the last couple of seasons with 13s and centres (in general) after Drico (Brian O’Driscoll).
“Before I would have had to step in a few times, or someone else would have had to step in, but we’ve got out and out 13s in depth now, which is great.”
In mentioning O’Driscoll, Earls and Ringrose share a bond, both having to try and extricate themselves from the shadow of one of world rugby’s great players, during their formative years. Earls offered an interesting take on dealing with that comparison for both himself and Ringrose.
“Look, I suppose when Ringer was coming through and he was being compared to Drico, I remember saying ‘oh god, that poor young fella’ . . . I said there’s nothing worse than that, you just need to leave him (Ringrose) be himself,” something O’Driscoll asked for too.
Earls continued: “I had been compared to Drico as well and it was the worst thing ever, because I was trying to be like Drico or trying to be better than Drico. Ringer is a very quiet fella, he’ll speak when he has to speak but his work-rate off and on the field is phenomenal.
“He gets on with his job and he’s a really intelligent fella. He’s still young enough, he’s 23 now so he’s still extremely young, but I think he’s definitely a lot better than I was when I was 23. He just needs a good run now. In my eyes he is a world class centre and he is going to get better and better.”
Earls has been impressed with Scotland’s performances in beating France and England and knows that many will draw a straight line between the Irish defence getting a little narrow in conceding three tries apiece against Italy and Wales and the attendant dangers from the Scottish back three if left unchaperoned.
He argued: “”Nothing has changed in our philosophy in defence. We have conceded a few out wide but there’s new personnel, fellas still learning the game in general, never mind (in) defence. When you’re looking at some of the tries scored, I know they’re scoring in corners but a lot can happen in the inside as well, it’s not just about what’s going on outside.
“It could be anything from, in the rucks, (with) someone making a poor decision to poach a ball and then we’re down a number. Look, we’re not concerned, nothing’s ever perfect, it’s just about us making good decisions when I suppose there isn’t a perfect decision made somewhere else. Communication in general is the most important thing in rugby. The game can be made so much easier with a simple bit of communication.”