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Earls numbers the positives after survivingcrisis of confidence

KEITH EARLS returns to his chosen jersey tomorrow, having wondered if he would ever get it back last summer.

The 25-year-old lost his place after Ireland's first Test defeat to New Zealand and returned for the third Test hammering in Hamilton on the wing.

He was replaced in both games and the arrival of new centres Casey Laulala and James Downey to Munster hasn't helped his situation.

When he returned for pre-season, Earls met the media and made a case for playing at No 13.

"I kind of panicked a small bit during the summer and maybe that's why I spoke about it so much," he recalled.

"We signed two world-class centres during the summer, but after speaking to Rob (Penney), he said to me that the lads aren't always going to be fit, while, if they are, I might have to slide on to the wing sometimes.

"I hit the panic button because of what happened during the summer, but having had time under his game plan, I have really enjoyed playing No 13 and have really been enjoying rugby in general, which is what I should be focused on."

Earls struggled in his last Ireland outing in the centre, but there are few who could have handled Sonny Bill Williams that day.

The Munster ace won't complain if he is asked to play elsewhere, but he wants to make it clear that the outside-centre berth is the one he wants to fill.

"What happened in the summer happened," he added. "I probably got frustrated at the result in New Zealand and it kind of came across wrong. It was different to what I wanted to sound like.

"Obviously, I prefer to play 13, but I am happy to play anywhere. I didn't want to set in stone and throw my toys out of the pram that I only wanted to play 13.

"I don't want people thinking I'm a grumpy oul' fellah who will only play 13. When I play for my country I'll play anywhere and do what is best for the squad."

The change of management at Munster has lifted Earls' confidence in attack as backs coach Simon Mannix and Penney encourage him to take risks. "They're really positive, which gives me confidence. I'm throwing these skip passes and I'm getting a bit better. It's great.

"It's about trying to expand my game, be a decision-maker."

In the end it is all about improvement and, as he replaces Brian O'Driscoll, becoming more like the Leinster and Ireland talisman.

"Brian is the all-round centre. He is a great decision-maker and he runs unbelievable lines. He's nice soft hands, which I've been working on a good bit.

"I'm trying to become the new Brian O'Driscoll, the all-round player. When you have all that armour, it's hard for your opposition to analyse you."

Irish Independent