Earls vows to make 13 jersey his own

Brian O’Driscoll remains Ireland’s first choice in the second centre position and Munster have signed Casey Laulala and James Downey but Keith Earls remains adamant — he wants to make the number 13 jersey his own for club and country.

Indeed it’s a conversation he has had with Declan Kidney and Munster’s Rob Penney.

“I spoke to Rob and let him know the position I prefer and he sees me as a 13 as well,” he said.

“Obviously, though, I’m not going to play every game for Munster just as Casey and James aren’t either. Danny Barnes, Ivan Dinneen and a couple of other lads are there and I’m sure it will be mix and match again like last year. But 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. To be honest, I absolutely hate playing 11. Every bad game I’ve played, it’s been at 11. Maybe it’s a confidence thing because I haven’t grown up playing there. I feel I need to be closer to the ball whereas on the wing you might finish off a couple of tries, you might get a run-in, but you don’t touch the ball as often as you want or to make as many tackles.

“There was a time when I was happy to have a jersey. I was learning the game. I’ve learned a lot from people like Rua Tipoki who was one of our best foreign signings. I met him in New Zealand. He was so intelligent and came up with his own ideas. 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 knows competition for places will be fierce this year.

“James Downey is a big ball carrier and a solid defender who always gets over the gain line. He’s a good fella to run off and then you have Casey with his quick feet. Both of them have good rugby brains. I’ve always dreaded coming up against Casey because his feet are so good so I’m looking forward to playing with both of them.”

Earls is happy he has shaken off the niggling injuries that cost him a lot of game-time last season and while he enjoyed working with Tony McGahan, he is also enthused by the arrival of Penney and backs coach Simon Mannix.

“I was running the back line yesterday and I was two or three years older than some of the lads,” he smiled.

“It’s a bit scary and puts a lot of pressure on me because I’m still learning the game but I like that role.

“We know Rob and Simon from their records as coaches but don’t know them yet as persons but they’re both positive men who like to keep it simple and let fellas express themselves. They’re killing us with the fitness right now but we’ve also run through two or three moves, they’ve been asking us to produce some ourselves and we’ll come up with a play book then.

“There are no numbers on backs any more. Some of the forwards are a bit scared by that but there’s no doubting the talent we have. They can throw a seven or ten-metre pass and even Rob was saying that he has never seen forwards and backs as such good passers.”

There is a commonly held belief that Munster will play a more expansive game under Penney but Earls isn’t promising anything.

“You never go into a season saying you’re going to throw the ball around,” he warned. “You have to adapt when you’re in Newport on a December night. Rob just wants a good skill level out of everyone and if the forwards have to truck it up and the backs as well and vice versa, that’s a good mixture.

“Irish teams have been criticised for playing like robots, just doing it for the sake of it. We can truck it up if we want to and throw it around if we want to.”

Ireland’s shocking 60-0 thrashing in the final Test in New Zealand coming on the back of the superb performance a week earlier still haunts everyone involved. Earls is no exception.

“Before the last Test, we were going solid for 54 weeks,’’ he recalled.

“The first Test was okay for a while, the second was quite good but the last was disgraceful and one you’d almost like to forget. In fact, this is my first time talking about it because it’s been really embarrassing.”

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