In the four years since Keith Earls ran in two birthday tries at the Rugby World Cup against Italy, the Munster flyer has missed 29 months of Test rugby, had two children and got engaged.
Now the 43-cap wing hopes to toast another birthday weekend by driving Ireland to one more World Cup victory over the Italians to square off a circle of injury and frustration.
Hip, knee and tendon problems dogged Earls’ career between World Cup tournaments, but the wily flyer is back in Joe Schmidt’s side and approaching top form.
Earls tied Brian O’Driscoll for Ireland’s record of seven World Cup tries with a brace in the 44-10 victory over Romania, and now hopes to claim another triumph over Italy on Sunday that would secure quarter-final qualification.
“There’s been a lot of ups and downs in the last four years,” said Earls, who starred in Ireland’s 36-6 victory over Italy at the 2011 World Cup on his 24th birthday.
“It’s been good the last nine months, though.
“I’ve had two kids in that time as well – I’ve grown up, got engaged and everything. It’s been a busy four years.”
Fitness permitting Earls ought to hit his prime at this World Cup, but his longevity already affords him senior status in Schmidt’s squad.