Monday 25 September 2017

'Rugby isn't healthy for the mind' - Ireland's Keith Earls reveals his frustrations

Ireland winger has been enduring the emotional roller-coaster of Six Nations season

Keith Earls of Ireland is tackled by Sean Maitland of Scotland
Keith Earls of Ireland is tackled by Sean Maitland of Scotland
Keith Earls is the latest into the firing line. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Play a sport, they said; it'll be good for you. Well, looking at the sombre faces around the Ireland camp this week, there may be a few strapping lads who'll disagree as they seek to explain what went wrong against Scotland last weekend.

Sure, it does wonders for your physical health but it can be tough on the mind.

Keith Earls is the latest into the firing line, a man who has experienced highs and lows on the rugby pitch but who, when he last spoke to the media at Carton House, talked of how the death of Anthony Foley had taught him not to take this game that is his job so seriously.

Annoying

Yet, here he is, facing up to a defeat that will rank among the most annoying he and his team-mates have ever suffered.

The Six Nations offers three prizes and two of them went out the window on Saturday.

Earlier this week the players have been taken through their forgettable performance step by step by the ruthless Joe Schmidt, their mistakes exposed in High Definition.

They are beginning to come out on the other side as Italy in Rome loom into view, but it has not been an easy week.

"It's not healthy," Earls said.

"Rugby isn't healthy for the mind. It's up and down. You could be on top of the world one week and then you're back down.

"You're representing your country which is always massive, you know the whole nation is watching you and the people that travel and then when you have a poor start, you come so close and then you lose it's extremely disappointing.

"Especially looking back on it again, we had unbelievable opportunities and we beat ourselves. We let Scotland beat us.

"It's never good for the 24 hours but when you look back and see your mistakes, it was nothing unbelievable that Scotland done - in fairness they took their chances - but a lot of it was our mistakes.

"Fair play to them, they're a team on their way up, they've got good structure and Glasgow are flying in Europe, their confidence is high and they're producing some good performances.

"We'll look at our mistakes and try to fix them but I suppose you've got to be positive as well coming back from that margin and getting ahead. I suppose our discipline as well maybe towards the end but we were just trying to chase the game and they put us under a lot of pressure for the last eight or nine minutes."

Earls was one of those left fighting fires as Ireland's defence got too narrow in the first half on Saturday and he was horribly exposed as Stuart Hogg was handed the ball in space in the build-up to his second try.

Rob Kearney drifted, leaving the Munster man with the unenviable task of hauling down the Scottish full-back in full flight and the task proved too difficult.

"That's the problem with wingers, wingers tend to get the blame!" he wryly remarked.

"That and No 13 are probably the hardest place to defend. We knew early on with our line-speed, Faz (defence coach Andy Farrell) didn't go at us at half-time. He just said, 'Look, we're not doing what we said we were going to do'.

"We spoke about it all week and we didn't do it. We did it in the second half and it worked. The first half was quite frustrating as a winger.

"Yeah, look as you say we try and stay within the system but the system isn't always going to be perfect. It's why you have your decision-makers on the edge who can solve a problem but we didn't solve any problems at the weekend when we were down a number or two. If we just stick to our plan I think we can keep most teams out."

Earls is one of the few Irish players who have tasted defeat in Rome, albeit from the sidelines as one of the several backline walking wounded on Declan Kidney's final day in charge.

Perhaps it's no surprise then that he's not entertaining talk of bonus points ahead of Saturday's Stadio Olimpico visit.

"It's going to be unbelievably physical. It always is over there," he said.

"Conor O'Shea and Mike Catt are doing a good job with them. Listening to them last week, they're just looking for an 80-minute performance and if they can do that they're going to run any team until the end.

"They have already beaten us in Rome a couple of years ago. They're another team on the up I suppose, they can produce a big performance like South Africa but then they lost to Tonga the week after.

"He (O'Shea) would have been looking at us in the last few years. I suppose he might have an extra in because he has been analysing us for a couple of years.

Massive

"What he's done with Harlequins and stuff, they've won trophies at Harlequins and that win against South Africa was massive for them. It was a good appointment for Italy to bring him in.

"I know he's got Mike Catt in there as well, who was a world-class player so we're going to have to be on our toes to deal with them.

"We're after losing one game already. We need a win in Italy to get our Championship back on track again and if we don't it's going to be a tough couple of weeks after that."

Another defeat might just be too much for them to entertain.

The focus is getting back to the highs the game has to offer by kick-starting their campaign.

Irish Independent

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