How Earls learned to cope with World Cup pressure cooker

How Earls learned to cope with World Cup pressure cooker

This time four years ago, Keith Earls was not handling the pressure of a World Cup at all well.

Four years before that, as he prepared to face Wales in the last eight, things were not going that swimmingly either.

Yet with age, experiences and a more mature outlook on life, the 32-year-old wing with 81 Test caps assesses the coming challenge of the All Blacks this Saturday on a remarkably even keel, safe in the knowledge he is now in a place where all his options are of the win-win variety.

“I prepare as well as I can and what’s the worst-case scenario of the weekend? You either go into the history books or I go home to my wife and kids, and everyone’s healthy.

“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? 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.”

It would be a stretch to say Earls is in possession of a devil-may-care attitude to this quarter-final at Tokyo Stadium but the differences to his approach compared to his previous World Cup appearances, in New Zealand in 2011 and England and Wales in 2015, are like night and day.

“Yeah, 100%. Back then, I probably would have changed something during the week, something ridiculous like changing my diet or changing my routine or tried to get 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.

“It wasn’t panic (before) but maybe because it’s a quarter-final, you think you have to change things. I wouldn’t change anything now.

"I’ve learned the last couple of years that you prepare the same for Russia as you would New Zealand. That’s where you get confidence from.”

Earls is thankful his self-assurance is matched by the younger members of the squad, particularly his back-three cohorts Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale,because back in 2011, as a24-year-old, he looked up the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, and Paul O’Connell but chose not to seek their advice.

Calling the difference, in terms of culture as well as his own confidence, between then and now “huge”, Earls added: “I probably didn’t use the lads enough, I probably didn’t ask them enough questionsbecause 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 come up and ask me any questions about it, I’d have no problem telling them about my experience in the past.

I remember the French game, the last group game a couple of years ago, 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.

"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.

“We’re a lot more open-minded now, just chatting to them (younger players). In general, we’d be together a lot, myself, Jacob and Jordo.

"I learn stuff off them as well. In fairness to the two of them, they are as cool as a breeze and I wish I knew back then what I know now, when I was their age.

“They’re great and there’s no fear in them. And even Andrew Conway as well, he’s been massive for me in this World Cup.

"On high-ball stuff, he’s the master of the high-ball stuff so I sort of pick his brains as well.”

Earls also makes use of the Ireland squad’s sports psychologist Enda McNulty if he feels the need.

“Enda’s always floating around. That’s why he’s there, he’s brilliant, he doesn’t bombard you, it’s up to you to go to him and I’d use him a small bit.

“As I said with my experience, I’m happy with working with myself but sometimes he’s great, I’d say, ‘Enda, my mind’s racing’ and he’ll sit you down and have a chat.”

How Earls learned to cope with World Cup pressure cooker

The Munster and Ireland wing has also tapped into another resource during his time in Japan, the country’s onsen, or hot spring baths.

“Yeah, I’m feeling great. I think it’s the Onsen baths over here! They’re great, the Japanese, with their hot baths you can go and relax.

“I had terrible back issues for two years. I genuinely, bar one or two injuries, feel the best that I’ve felt in two years. That’s hand on heart.

“Myself, Jor, Jacob, 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.”

All in all, Earls is in a happy place now as he stares into a third quarter-final appearance, and the biggest challenge in Ireland’s World Cup history, trying to beat New Zealand in a knockout game.

“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.

"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.”

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