Keith Earls has been plotting a top level rugby career since he was 12 or 13. “I just decided then that I’d like to become a serious player,” he admitted to IrishRugby.ie in an interview last year. Since then, the Limerick youngster’s career has really taken off and another chapter will begin for him on Saturday when he dons an Ireland senior jersey for the first time.
KEITH EARLS (YOUNG MUNSTER/MUNSTER)
Born: Moyross, Limerick, October 2, 1987
Height: 5ft 11in (180cm)
Weight: 14st 2lbs (90kg)
Munster Caps: 12; Points: 20 (4 tries); Debut: v Ospreys, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Magners League, April 7, 2007
Ireland Caps: 0
Ireland ‘A’ Caps: 7; Points: 25 (5 tries); Debut: v Canada, Sandy Park, Exeter, Churchill Cup, May 19, 2007
Ireland Under-20 Caps: 5; Points: 5 (1 try); Debut: v Wales U-20, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, U-20 Six Nations, February 2, 2007
An all-action full-back or centre with bags of pace, Keith Earls has progressed through the ranks at Munster at a rate of knots.
The 21-year-old from Limerick, a son of Young Munster legend Ger Earls, has dazzled for his province already this season, scoring four tries in six competitive outings as well as making his Heineken Cup bow.
Earls, a member of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning Under-20 team from 2007, scored in each of the Ireland ‘A’ team’s matches at the 2007 Churchill Cup and helped the ‘A’ side retain the Plate title at last summer’s tournament.
The Young Munster clubman, certainly one of the most exciting young talents in Irish rugby, has a bright future ahead of him and the GUINNESS Series 2008 offers him his first chance to impress at senior level.
– A former pupil at St. Nessan’s Community College and St. Munchin’s College, Earls helped the latter to the Munster Schools Senior Cup title in March 2006 when he scored the all-important try in a 7-3 final win over PBC Cork
– He was part of the successful Ireland Schools team that beat France, England and Wales over Easter 2005
– He played at inside centre, partnering current Ulster winger Mark McCrea, and that Schools side also included Luke Fitzgerald (at full-back) and Cian Healy (at loosehead prop), who are both members of Ireland’s GUINNESS Series 2008 squad
– Earls’ performances in 2005 saw him called into the Ireland squad for that summer’s Under-19 IRB World Championship in Durban
– That U-19 team was captained by current senior player Rob Kearney and Earls, then just 17, came on as a replacement for the 9th-12th place play-off game against Japan
– He had a bigger role at the 2006 IRB Under-19 World Championship in Dubai, where he scored a fine try in Ireland’s 17-16 pool win over England
– Helped by his presence in the Munster Academy, Earls made the step-up to Under-20 level last year with great aplomb
– He was ever-present – making five starts – for the Ireland U-20s during their Six Nations Grand Slam and championship-winning campaign. He turned in a man-of-the-match display, scoring a try in the process, in a crucial win over Scotland
– Having starred for Thomond RFC in the AIB League and made such an impression with the Irish Under-20s, Earls won the John McCarthy Award for Excellence (for Academy players) at the 2007 Munster Rugby Awards
– He gained a development contract with Munster in January 2007, making his senior debut for the province three months later against the Ospreys. The contract turned into a full deal earlier this year
– His Ireland ‘A’ debut followed in May 2007 at the Churchill Cup and he managed to crown it with a try. Ironically, given Saturday’s opposition, the Moyross native lined out for the ‘A’ side against Canada that night in Exeter
– Moved to inside centre alongside Darren Cave, he touched in the ‘A’ team’s subsequent defeat to the New Zealand Maori, but back on the left wing, he was amongst the scorers again in the Plate final victory over Scotland ‘A’
– Stints with the Ireland Sevens team and Garryowen , with whom he scored 7 tries in last season’s AIB League, saw Earls continue his development as a hard-running back. Declan Kidney, his then Munster coach, gave him four run-outs as a replacement in the Magners League
– His Ireland ‘A’ career continued apace with three more outings at last summer’s Churchill Cup, where the men in green retained the Plate title. Earls scored two tries in the pool defeat to England Saxons
– He made a blistering start to the current season, scoring in the Magners League against Edinburgh and the Newport Gwent Dragons. His hat-trick against the Dragons made many observers sit up and take notice of his burgeoning talent. Exhibits A, B and C
– His Heineken Cup debut came last month at home to Montauban (at full-back) and he was moved to outside centre for the trip to Sale Sharks a week later
– Selected for the first time in an Ireland training squad, Earls impressed head coach Declan Kidney during last week’s training camp in Limerick. He has been handed the number 15 jersey for next Saturday’s GUINNESS Series 2008 opener against Canada
ON HIS SELECTION AGAINST CANADA –
“I was a bit surprised to be included in the fifteen. I was hoping really maybe to just get into the 22, but Declan has great trust in me and he opted for me at full-back.
“Declan announced the team (this morning) and that was the first time I heard. He picked a couple of teams last week but he was giving nothing away – everyone was trying to guess the team!
“When I came out of the meeting, I was straight on the phone to my father and told him I was selected. He was over the moon, he told everyone.
“It’s an absolute dream come true to get my first cap for my country at a ground near where I grew up. It’s only a couple of minutes from my own house. It’s just an extra bit special.”
ON HIS OWN GAME –
“I think it’s improved a small bit. I really haven’t nailed down a position yet. I’ve been played in three different positions for Munster – full-back, wing and centre.
“And I’m just enjoying it at the moment, just trying to do the basics, nothing special.
“Declan was my first professional coach. He said to me: get the basics right and go from there.”
ON JOINING UP WITH THE NATIONAL SQUAD –
“I was really looking forward to it when Declan selected me in the extended squad. To have the opportunity to play with the likes of Brian (O’Driscoll), Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney. Hopefully I’ll get the chance on Saturday and do well.
“Training’s been really good. Declan split up the teams all last week, so you’re training in different back-lines. I was at 12, I was at 13, so you got a piece of the action everywhere.”
ON HIS SPORTING BACKGROUND –
“Like most kids, I played a lot of sport when I was younger. I played soccer, played hurling and a bit of Gaelic football.
“Rugby and soccer, growing up, were my two main games. As rugby got serious in school, I started leaning more towards it.”
ON THE BUILD-UP TO THE CANADA GAME –
“Most rugby players treat it like all games are the same. But it’s an international, it’s a bit special and it’s my first cap. I’ll treat it that extra bit special.”