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We’re In For A Right Battle – Earls

We’re In For A Right Battle – Earls

Keith Earls has likened Ireland’s final GUINNESS Series Test to a ‘cup final’ as they look to overturn a highly-rated Argentina team at the Aviva Stadium.

Apart from the obvious factor of seedings for Monday week’s Rugby World Cup pool allocation draw, there is plenty riding on the outcome of Ireland’s final international match of 2012.

Declan Kidney’s side will be determined to get the upper hand on Argentina and add to their home wins over the South Americans from 2008 and 2010.

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Historically, the Pumas have proven to be difficult opponents for Ireland to handle – World Cup defeats in 1999 and 2007 are testament to that fact.

Ireland’s 29-9 victory over Argentina in November two years ago went down in the record books as their second ever success at the Aviva Stadium.

Keith Earls, a second half replacement that day, had a late try ruled out by the television match official. One of the more experienced members of the current GUINNESS Series squad, the Limerick man recognises the Pumas as top class opposition.

“They’re physical men, they’re hard and they play hard. They’re passionate fellas and we will have to front up hard,” he admitted at the team base in Carton House.

“They have real quality behind the scrum. We saw that in the Rugby Championship and they have obviously taken a lot from Graham Henry’s involvement. We’re in for a right battle, especially in the centre.”

Earls is expected to line out in the centre again alongside Gordon D’Arcy, the midfield pairing Ireland fielded for the 16-12 defeat to South Africa a fortnight ago.

Giving his take on the Pumas centres, he said: “Gonzalo Tiesi has played in Europe for a while. I talked to Mike Ross about him because he played with Harlequins for a while and he’s a tough lad.

“He looks to be played with (Gonzalo) Camacho, who played with Harlequins as well, and obviously he was in the side that beat us (Munster) in the Amlin (Challenge Cup) semi-final in 2011.

“Those two lads are hard men and they’ll obviously have (Juan Martin) Hernandez as well. He’s back from injury and will be their key man.”

Earls added: “This is a pressure game. There’s always pressure when you’re playing international rugby and there’s World Cup seedings at stake, but that’s not something we’ve talked about.

“What we’ve spoken about is how we need the win. This is cup rugby, a cup final of sorts and that’s the mentality we have to adopt for this game.”

A groin injury, picked up in last month’s derby clash with Leinster, disrupted Earls’ start to the new season and his promising provincial partnership with Casey Laulala.

His powers of recovery saw him make a sharp return to full fitness for Ireland’s GUINNESS Series games, and the 25-year-old has admittedly taken more a leadership role this month amidst an Irish camp of many new faces.

His 33 Test caps mark Earls out as one of the more experienced players at Kidney’s disposal for this Series.

Ireland’s top try scorer at the 2011 World Cup feels he is continuing to grow as a player, warming to a role which is seeing him have more of a vocal input both on and off the pitch.

Earls can bank on his big tournament and touring experience when assisting the youngsters taking the very same ‘baby steps’ he took four years ago.

“I’m not as shy as I used to be within the squad. I feel confident to speak up that I’m a bit established now and obviously there’s a lot of our senior lads now pushing on a bit, so it’s time for the next wave to come through,” he explained.

“There’s Johnny (Sexton), Jamie (Heaslip), Cian Healy, Conor Murray, we’ve all a few caps under our belts now and it’s time for us to push it on.

“You just feel when you’re talking at meetings that fellas are listening to you, it’s a great feeling that hopefully they do respect what I’m saying.

“I know if anyone else is speaking that I put the ears up and I listen because there’s nothing better than hearing it coming from the players.

“I still wouldn’t be talking as much as I am in Munster, I’m still finding my bearings up here but I talk a good bit on the pitch anyway and I say something if I have to, I won’t speak just for the sake of it.”

There have been changes to Earls’ pre-match rituals too. The Munster speedster had an informative chat with Olympic medal-winning boxer Kenny Egan during the boxing squad’s recent visit with Kidney’s men in Maynooth.

“I used to have three different rosary beads and a medal, and I’m kissing them three times, or I have to kiss one four times..this kind of craic,” he revealed.

“But I just gave it all up, it was driving me mad. If I had forgotten my rosary beads, I’d think, ‘Oh, I can’t play’, but they’re all gone out the window now.

“Kenny Egan was saying that he’s laughing and joking 15 minutes before he goes out and boxes. Once his 15 minutes comes up, he’s just thinking about the fight then, but up to that he’s joking and I kind of took that on.

“Sometimes I’d just try to have a different routine and not think about the game, because when I do I drive myself mad. So, I prefer to just turn up on the bus and then go out and play the game.

“That’s the kinda thing I’m trying to take on board, and it seems to be working.”

He continued: “I feel I’m a bit of an instinct player and I just like to get out there and play, without thinking too much. I’m more relaxed now.

“And once I’m feeling fit and healthy and I’m feeling sharp, I’m making my half-breaks or whatever and enjoying rugby, no matter where that is I’d be willing to put on any jersey for anyone.”

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