Apprentice electrician Keith Earls is a live wire member of the Irish Under-20 side which takes on France, the U-21 world champions, at Dubarry Park tomorrow night.
While that task is daunting, Earls admitts it is “an unbelievable experience” to be part of what he considers to be “a great group of lads”, under the coaching eye of experienced former international Eric Elwood.
Though he played on the wing in last week’s 17-15 win over Wales, the Moyross youngster, who is in his first year with the Munster Academy, favours playing at centre and he has great regard for Felix Jones who was Ireland’s two-try hero in Swansea.
Mixing his roles between rugby and being an apprentice electrician comes easy to the talented Thomond clubman who, in a typical week, does weights and speed work at the University of Limerick on Monday, then trains with the Munster senior squad on Tuesday and Thursday and works on his apprenticeship on Wednesday.
Playing against Wales was a fantastic experience, he admitted, and ranked as high as playing in the Under-19 World Cup against England last year.
Earls’ main goal is to gain a place in the Munster senior team and, hopefully, to go on and play for Ireland at senior level.
Of his present team-mates, he rates winger Shane Monahan and lock Andrew Browne as being particularly impressive players, along with Jones and team captain David Pollock. UCD’s Ian Keatley, who sent over the match-winning drop goal against Wales, is the funny man of the squad.
Looking to tomorrow’s game, he said: “We’ve watched videos of France in action. They are physical and can also run with the ball when given the chance – it will be a tough game for us but we’re confident of winning, especially at home. And Eric Elwood has been a great coach to us, I’ve learned a lot from him.”
The 19-year-old has played at Dubarry Park before, and thinks it is “a lovely ground to play at.” Wales’ Gareth Thomas is his favourite player to watch and the best player he has played with, he remarked, is, his own father Ger who scored that crucial try for Young Munster when they beat St. Mary’s College in the All-Ireland League Division One final in 1993.
“I was too young to attend that final at Lansdowne Road, but I have seen it many times since,” added Keith, who cites Luke Fitzgerald as the best player he has played against so far in his career.
Earls does not model his game on any particular player – “I have my own kind of game” – and is eagerly anticipating an Irish win in this year’s senior Six Nations. “They have a great chance of winning it. The side is playing well and they possess a strong pack and excellent backs and this could be their year.”
Commenting on the AIB League, Earls admitted that predicting the Division One winner is difficult, but being a Limerick native, “it would be nice if UL Bohemians could manage it.”
Interestingly, the former St. Munchin’s student admitted to having certain superstitions. “I always bring Rosary beads onto the pitch with me and I always switch to channel 3 on the telly before I turn it off.”
His proudest moment came when scoring a try against England at the U-19 World Cup, with his best ever coaching advice coming from one of his Thomond coaches, Martin Ryan – “keep your head down and play your own game.”
Earls, who has played at Thomond Park, his favourite ground, on many occasions, is certainly a player to watch over the coming years. His determination to succeed is infectious. He has been plotting his career since he was 12 or 13 – “I just decided then that I’d like to become a serious player” – and there is little doubt that those Munster and Ireland caps will follow.