Keith Earls has no problem being the elder lemon on this Irish tour to the USA and Japan but reckons the young kids coming through are adapting more quickly to the demands of professional and international rugby.
Earls, who will be 30 in October, is the second most capped player on this tour with 59 appearances — Cian Healy has 67 — and believes that the emerging players can get great experience over the next three weeks.
With 11 away on Lions duty and a handful more out through injury — out-half Paddy Jackson is also unavailable for this clash on Saturday for ‘personal reasons’ — it’s an opportunity for Joe Schmidt to experiment.
Eight uncapped players are included, with 15 more having less than ten caps, and Earls believes they can gain invaluable experience against the USA and in the two Tests against Japan.
“It’s a great experience. New York is an unbelievable place to go, but you have to be careful not to take it as a holiday, with the young lads they can get distracted a small bit but it’s great to experience different cultures and especially in Japan in a week.
“A few of the young lads will be around for the World Cup as well, which will be good. I’ve never been to Japan before, it’ll be quite interesting.”
Earls is available if any of the young guns need advice but he believes they are meeting the demands just fine.
“I wouldn’t go out of my way trying to annoy a fella, but if he wanted a chat, or if one of the younger lads was struggling or missing home or whatever, I’d ask him if he wanted to go for a coffee, or whatever, the offer is there.
“But it’s been great so far, we’re starting to really get to know each other now and get used to the younger personalities, it’s gas. They’re in a different world with social media etc.”
The USA segment of the tour has given him the chance to catch up with Ronan O’Gara, with the Racing 92 assistant coach linking up with the squad in Carton House last week and this week in New Jersey. His time with the squad will end after Saturday’s clash at the Red Bull Arena, with Girvan Dempsey and Felix Jones coming on board for a week each in Japan.
Earls said that Rog getting involved has been a boost which will benefit all parties.
“He’s been at club level for a couple of years and is probably looking to progress. That’s why he’s probably come here to learn off some of the best.
“I suppose from a player’s point of view, he’s done it under incredible pressure at massive tournaments and who knows... he wouldn’t be a bad choice to have around.
“Rog is just keeping his head down. He’s going around with his notebook and he’s learning off the coaches as well, but in fairness to him, if something pops up on the video he’ll open his mouth, as he did as a player as well.
“It’s gas. He joined in for one of the sessions last week and he’ll still pull it off I’ll tell ya. He hasn’t lost it. He’s still the same size. Whether the lungs are good enough, I don’t know but he’s looked after himself.
“It’s great. He’s living in Paris so I don’t get to see him as much as when we used to play together so it’s great to catch up. I consider him a really good friend.”
The presence of his former Munster and Ireland teammate has made Earls feel that bit older in the presence of so many youngsters, but he’s keen to play his part in their development.
“Everyone’s different, I suppose, I had all the help in the world too. The biggest issue I had when I was younger is I was trying to be like so many other players rather than myself.
“The last couple of years I’ve figured out who I am and what I want to do. I did have all the help in the world, but I was still trying to figure out what I was comfortable with.
“A lot of these younger lads now they know what they want, which is great.
“I would have been looking at someone like Doug Howlett when he first came over, Jean de Villiers, watching World Cups…
“They don’t fear as much as we did. For a few of us growing up, ten years ago, it was tough love off the older fellas, that seems to be gone a bit now. It’s a lot more relaxed now. The younger fellas know what’s expected of them now, which is great,” he added.
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