Versatile Earls out to wing it for Irish

SOMETIMES the gift of versatility can be a killer. It can put you in two or three minds about where you are best placed to fit into the overall picture.

For Ireland’s Keith Earls, the burden of being blessed with a footballer’s instincts and the pace of a greyhound must seem more a curse than a cure-all at times.

“The one jersey I don’t want is number 22,” he said, in the lavish surrounds of Carton House yesterday. The timid-talking Munster back is not one for brash statements designed to promote his own brilliance.

The signpost is clearly marked. He is a man in a mini crisis of confidence. He wants certainty where there isn’ t any. Do you just want to play on the wing? Straight question. “Yeah. That would be my first choice.” Straight answer.

“In Munster, we have a lot of fellas that play in different positions, with Johne Murphy at wing, centre and full-back. But, Felix Jones has cemented himself as the Munster full-back. If we do sign a centre after the World Cup, I could be looking at the wing. Touch wood. “You just want a crack at it. You do all this training. You just want to get out onto the pitch. It takes me a couple of games to get into my stride,” he admitted.

While the in-form Andrew Trimble and the finding-form Luke Fitzgerald have been able to ease back into the game on either flank of Ireland’s attack, Earls has been moved into the one position where there is no chance of becoming first choice.

“Obviously, the main man (Brian O’Driscoll) was missing (against France). I got my chance at 13. Hopefully, I will get a chance this week because I don’t feel I did myself justice on Saturday. “It is quite tough. The boys (Trimble and Fitzgerald) are looking sharp and me playing out of position. I’ve been scared, thinking of looking at the number 22 jersey again.” There has been no knock on Declan Kidney’s door; no quiet word in the ear of management. He doesn’t want to create a fuss.

It is not his way. But, Earls is clearly not comfortable about being moved around. Has this Jack of all Trades and Master of Many found his versatility to be a stumbling block? “It has in the past,” he said. “I felt I was in good form in the Six Nations. Being pushed into the centre is another good opportunity for me, but it is quite confusing.” There is a definite strain of uncertainty and humility emanating from the Limerick man. It is a rare sighting in the international arena, especially publicly, where self-belief and confidence are presumed commodities. “It has been a roller-coaster, you know.

“I was just getting use to the wing when I was pushed into the centre and a new defensive role and new attacking role,” he said. Earls needs the security of knowing what is required of him and from where it is required. It won’t be long before he finds out the reasoning behind Kidney’s choices.