Keith Earls has been here before, bounding towards a new Six Nations campaign on the back of an uplifting November window and with the kudos of a Grand Slam title in the team’s kitbag from the year before.
What followed, in 2010, was a curate’s egg. Declan Kidney’s side won in Twickenham but got their asses handed to them in Paris. Then Scotland punctured the whole shebang and a Triple Crown with it by winning what remains the last ever game of rugby in Croke Park.
No wonder the Munster flyer is staying grounded right now.
“I can’t really remember (back) that far,” he laughed. “I suppose we can’t fall in love with ourselves and think (a Grand Slam) is going to happen again. To win the Grand Slam last year was massive, we knew how hard it was and what we had to do, but we’re just going again now.
“The bug is there to win another one. We’re taking it game-by-game, whether it’s the Championship or a Grand Slam. This group is quite good at enjoying success and then re-focusing to go again, to try and retain the trophy.”
Earls is a member of an Irish squad that has continually discovered new horizons but the challenge awaiting them this next few months is up there with the most taxing given no-one has yet succeeded in placing back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams together.
France last stitched together a perfect pair of spring campaigns, in 1997 and ‘98, but Italy had yet to join this exclusive grouping by then and Earls, for all of Ireland’s successes in recent times, is of the view that this current side still has some way to travel.
“When you look at our defence last year in the Six Nations, even when we pulled away from teams, we kind of relaxed a small bit. Teams nearly caught us in the end, or else we kind of left in two or three silly tries when we shouldn’t have left in.
“It’s just about improving all aspects of our game. It genuinely goes down as far as our catch-pass. We looked at it this morning when a few of our passes were behind us and in front and maybe… someone might have got through a gap.
“We’re a bit obsessed about having the perfect game.”
Though an impossibility, this weekend would be a decent time to come close to that. England arrive in Dublin on the back of a November showing that, though far from breathtaking, merited suggestions that their graph is again pointing in the right direction.
Earls has won four and lost four in eight previous meetings but they are bookmarked by great memories: his first in that 2010 season when he claimed a try in the victory and his last 10 months back when Ireland completed their clean sweep in devastating fashion in London.
Add to that the very fact that this is, well, England. Few sights are more likely to motivate an Irishman on the field of play and yet the maturity of Joe Schmidt’s side is apparent in the air of near detachment that Earls displays when faced with all that history and bluster.
For him, England is no different to New Zealand or Canada.
‘Personally, I don’t know how I (do) it. It’s just practice. I just take the internationals, that’s the biggest thing for me, not taking them too seriously. Obviously, you care about them but it’s a game of rugby at the end of the day.
“As long as I can prepare well and go out and do everything I can to win in an Ireland jersey, then that’s it. I don’t need any other motivational factors, whether it’s England or ‘God save the Queen’.
“I’m just going to go out and do my best and when in an Ireland jersey, no matter what it takes.” If Ireland are in a healthy state of mind then the same can be largely said for their bodies. Jack Conan and Andrew Conway missed last week’s trip to Portugal due to treatment back home but have now reported for duty. So too Rob Kearney and Jack McGrath after their appearances for Leinster against Scarlets last Friday.
Adam Byrne and Quinn Roux have also checked in at Carton House. The only absentees are, as previously noted, Munster’s Tadhg Beirne and Ulster’s Iain Henderson who are both recuperating from injury. Who knows how this will end, but they start in a good place.