Earls stringing it together on and off the pitch in search for glory
IN the week that Ireland winger Keith Earls served as grand marshal to Limerick's St Patrick's Day parade, perhaps it is no surprise to learn that he and scrum-half Tomas O'Leary are attempting to replicate the magic of legendary musical duo Foster and Allen.
Yesterday Earls, with baby sister Jenny (3) by his side, led a parade in honour of Ireland's patron saint around the centre of Limerick throwing mini rugby balls into a crowd dotted with large green hats and sprigs of shamrock.
It has been 28 years since Mick Foster and Tony Allen famously donned leprechaun suits for a Top Of The Pops rendition of their single 'A Bunch Of Thyme' but it was that double act who came to mind this week when Earls explained how the parade and his recently acquired guitar hobby have helped to take his mind off his Six Nations campaign under Declan Kidney.
"It's good," said Earls. "You don't have to live and breathe rugby. I had a chat with Deccie about it and I didn't want it to look that I was kind of forgetting about the game three days before the test.
"But it was only an hour and I was going to be home anyway so I said I'd do it. I usually hang around (on days off), I hung around the last couple of weeks minding my groin but I've turned the corner now, I feel a lot better so it was okay to travel.
"Last week (before playing Wales) I had a bit of a sleep and I chilled out with Tomas O'Leary and a couple of the lads around town.
"I bought a guitar and I'm trying to learn how to play it. I'm still trying to learn the chords, I'm useless at it. Tomas has a guitar and he's learning as well, so we'll try to do a duet sometime."
There are a plethora of theme-battering phrases to link Earl's musical diversion and his form in this year's Six Nations but, as well as being 'on song' and 'in tune' with his 2009 Grand Slam-winning team-mates, it is Earls' maturity which has most impressed.
The 22-year-old Thomond man, who wins only his 10th cap on Saturday, has been playing with the poise of a seasoned campaigner. In the victories over England and Scotland, Earls' decision-making in attack and defence has been impeccable and, thrillingly, it has been accompanied by the verve of youth.
The three tries he scored in those matches (one against England, two against Wales) brings his tally to six in nine international outings but while he is understandably happy with that strike-rate, Earls shields himself for the hype that is building around him ahead of Saturday's Triple Crown bid.
"I haven't a clue really (about his growing reputation), I don't read papers much and I just get on with it. I don't really care. I really enjoyed the Wales match, it was a great game to be involved in, especially after last year and the Grand Slam decider, it is a massive game and it was good to get good scores and beat them the way we did.
"I've never played Scotland. I've played a couple of 'A' games and underage alright but never at senior level. It's going to be tough, they're physical, they've been playing really good rugby this year. They nearly caught Wales in Wales and got a draw against England. They're going to come over here to beat the big fish.
"It's strange when my father talks about 1985 and the Triple Crown, it's historic. Now I've a chance to go down in history as well. It's a brilliant feeling but it's going to be a tough day," added Earls, who agrees he is growing into his international role.
"I have, yeah. I've even got more confident around the squad. It's good to have a good game and good to be a regular this season, I'm more relaxed and stuff and there's a good buzz about training. I'm getting involved more."
In time, that involvement could include Earls and O'Leary providing Foster and Allen-esque musical entertainment for the squad. He admits he is struggling with his new instrument but, given his capacity for meeting challenges, you'd back him to get there.