Keith Earls is fine. Let’s just start there.
Reports he sat out Ireland training in Cardiff yesterday morning had sent ripples of concern through a following already on edge thanks to a burgeoning injury list and the suspension for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Argentina of Sean O’Brien.
“The body is good,” said a smiling Earls. “The coaches are just watching my load, my running metres and stuff. I’ve started all the games and done every training session so I sat down and watched. Had a bit of a break and let my body recover from the most physical game I played in my life.”
Happy days then. Earls’ most memorable moment against the French may have been when he spilled a Tommy Bowe pass with the try line calling, but it is not one that should overshadow the player’s electric form before and during this tournament.
Joe Schmidt has always stressed his defensive capabilities when bigging up a player many believed to be too slight to feature in a Test midfield, while four tries in six games for Ireland so far this season speak volumes for a man near the peak of his form.
No question, the ease with which he has slotted in at outside-centre beside the superb Robbie Henshaw has mitigated much of the damage done by Jared Payne’s loss for the duration due to a foot injury, but Earls believes he as an individual and the partnership can flourish further.
“It’s been great. I’ve played with Robbie twice now and we’re starting to lto know each other.
“The first time when you play it can be tough to find out what he likes and stuff and at the weekend we showed a small bit of what kind of partnership we could have.”
His touch down against Italy took him beyond Brian O’Driscoll’s record as top Irish try scorer at World Cups, but he refuses to let family pass on the praise being heaped on him from outside, while even his team-mates have refrained from slagging his entry into the history books.
It hasn’t been all gravy, of course.
The gathering speed with which Ireland’s clean bill of health has been besmirched by injuries to a number of key players has led to the squad drafting in replacements from home and the loss of Paul O’Connell has been the hardest to assimilate.
“It’s devastating,” said Earls, who happened to be the closest player to O’Connell on the pitch when he did his hamstring at the Millennium Stadium.
“I was actually next to him when it happened on the pitch and I knew by the sounds of him that it wasn’t good. He has been massive. I know people have been saying plenty about him, but genuinely words can’t describe what he has done for the country, for me. He is a massive loss.”
Earls has roomed many a time with O’Connell and he obviously knows his Munster captain Peter O’Mahony well too, but he wasn’t keen on having his heart strings tugged by the predictable ‘Let’s Do it for Paulie’ line of questioning he faced yesterday.
“He won’t expect me to feel sorry for him,” said the back. “He will expect me to get back and please God try and get us through to a semi-final on Sunday.”
Ireland’s difficulties and those of Wales have served to concentrate attention on the wider attrition rate in the modern game with some claiming the number of injuries and replacements needed from outside the initial squads of 31 suggests that the toll now is greater than ever.
“It’s definitely getting more physical but injuries happen,” said Earls. “I have been through my fair share and rugby is cruel, but there is nothing you can really do about it. You can’t prevent injury. It is a physical sport.
“That’s why some lads do enjoy it. They like putting their bodies on the lines. It’s unfortunate that there has been a lot of injuries, but that is life … A couple of these injuries could happen to you walking down the street.”
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