After a man of the match performance against Romania, Keith Earls has every reason to feel good about life right now but the Ireland wing has admitted that life at the World Cup can be tough, with a young family back at home.
Father of two Earls turns 28 on Friday, four years to the day since he scored two tries in a crucial victory in New Zealand that confirmed Ireland as World Cup pool winners for the first time in six attempts.
The opposition that day in Dunedin was Italy, the same team he hopes to face at London’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday as Joe Schmidt’s side bids to qualify for the last eight at the earliest opportunity with three wins from three.
And with the Irish management looking to field its strongest possible side for the clash with their Six Nations rivals, Earls’s form suggests he is a shoo-in for the left-wing berth.
Two tries against Romania last weekend pulled him level with Brian O’Driscoll on seven as Ireland’s top World Cup try scorer but while he admitted that surpassing the legendary number 13 was not a motivating factor, his family very much was.
Earls and fiancee Edel McGee welcomed their second child into the world in May and doing his best for daughters Ella May, born in 2013, and new arrival Laurie are what really makes the Munster star tick.
“Yeah, it’s very tough,” Earls said of camp life away from family, “but it’s also motivating, you know? It’s probably something that motivates me the most; this is my job, I’m out here keeping the wolf from the door and that kind of motivates you.
“You have Facetime and stuff too, it makes it a bit easier but you do miss the hugs and that. But when you’ve a good woman at home it makes it a lot easier.”
Earls’s rugby is certainly looking after itself right now and for the last nearly 10 months since he returned to Munster colours from a five-month knee injury lay-off.
Confidence is sky high and selection for the World Cup appears to have sent his morale through the roof, his performances in the green of Ireland making him a standout among a highly competitive group of back three players in the squad.
“I’ve been enjoying this since January,” he said. “I’m enjoying being back playing and being injury-free. It’s been good, thank God, it’s been great. I’m just focusing on myself. Focusing on my strengths and not focusing on trying to be like other players or anything like that.
“Obviously the big focus is on my body. I’m 24-7 trying to look after it. I’ve no niggles, I’ve nothing, which is great. I’m getting my work done early in the week regarding our moves and stuff, our game-plan, and I just seem more relaxed at the weekend.”
For someone who has had as many injury problems as Earls, the wing can be forgiven for not taking his wellness for granted and that manifests itself in a strenuous prehab routine before each game and a more tailored strength and conditioning programme.
“Recovery and rehab in the gym, looking after the knees, working with the physios even when there’s nothing sore to just keep on top of stuff.
“I haven’t bulked up or anything like that. I don’t lift as heavy as I can anymore, or that I used to be able to in the gym. I was lifting big weights in the gym years ago trying to get up to 94/95 kg and I kept breaking down.
“So we’ve spoken to the lads in Munster and spoken to Jason (Cowman, Ireland’s S&C coach) and we found a programme that’s good for me. It might be just doing one weights session a week and then the rest of the time is on the rehab and looking after myself.”
More powerful and as quick off the blocks as ever, Earls showcased his pace to great effect at Wembley last weekend, kick-starting the move that led to Tommy Bowe’s opening try after a great aerial take and charge, receiving Simon Zebo’s excellent skip pass on the 22 to race home for his first try and then sprinting onto Eoin Reddan’s sliding kick to pounce for his second.
“I’m happy with my speed,” he said. “Some fellas kind of taper off, they might lose a small bit of acceleration but I thank my genes that I’m still holding onto it.
“The confidence I get from my body holding up is great. I try not let myself get ahead of myself when I’m playing well, it was maybe something I was doing when I was younger, maybe getting ahead of myself.
“I’m just constantly living in the moment now.”
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