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'We're barely in the class room' - Keith Earls on how Andy Farrell has reduced anxiety levels of players

Munster winger believes Farrell's relaxed approach is reducing anxiety levels of the players and creating an open environment within squad


Ireland attack coach Mike Catt and Keith Earls share a joke during Ireland training. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland attack coach Mike Catt and Keith Earls share a joke during Ireland training. Photo: Sportsfile


Ireland attack coach Mike Catt and Keith Earls share a joke during Ireland training. Photo: Sportsfile

Keith Earls can remember a time in Munster when players "were scared to laugh" for fear that it would mistakenly be construed as them not fully concentrating on the task at hand.

That's the thing about professional sport these days - players often forget that it was their love of the game that got them into this privileged position in the first place.

Such is the way of the modern world, paralysis by analysis means that every move is scrutinised to the finest detail, both publicly and privately.

Last year, in the build-up the World Cup and at the tournament itself, that kind of intensity ramped up even more as no stone was left unturned in the pursuit of success.

It's easy to look back on it now with the benefit of hindsight, but Joe Schmidt has already admitted that he would have done things differently, if he could do it all over again.

Andy Farrell has undoubtedly improved the mood within the camp, which is all well and good until results don't go Ireland's way. Farrell has been around the block long enough to understand that, and he certainly won't be getting too carried away with the positive start.

Two wins from two has Ireland in an ideal place ahead of next weekend's showdown with England at Twickenham, as the doom and gloom of what unfolded in Japan is lifted that bit more.

Like Farrell, Earls has been on the scene for a while now, so he knows exactly what transitional periods between different coaches are like.

Having been a part of several of them in Munster, the Limerick native is well placed to offer an insight into that 'new manager bounce' which is often spoken about in top-level sport.

"If you were laughing you weren't switched on or you weren't concentrating or you weren't being professional," Earls says, recalling his previous experience with Munster, before going on to compare it with the current Ireland set-up.

"But I think in the last week before we did the Captain's Run then we didn't meet again until we were getting on the bus going to the game.

"Usually you'd have a couple of meetings beforehand and you might have a meeting at ten in the morning and the anxiety starts coming in from there, whereas it's completely chilled.

"We are trying to enjoy ourselves, but once you walk out in the four lines you have to be switched on.

"It's being able to switch on for the hour or so rather than wasting energy all morning or two days or a day out, wasting energy on thinking about plays or stuff like that.

"It's definitely a lot more relaxed in Munster and Ireland as well."

Earls isn't the first Ireland player to come out and speak so openly about the less stifling atmosphere within the squad.

The likes of Iain Henderson and Conor Murray have already done so too, as they pointed to how the Monday morning review sessions have become less intimidating.

In Schmidt's defence, if he had the kind of state-of-the-art facilities at the IRFU's new High Performance Centre (HPC), then he would have made use of them, which could perhaps have made players more comfortable in the sessions.

"As I said there, it's been a lot more chilled," Earls continues.

"We're barely in the class room as well. We see our class room as being on the field.


Ireland head coach Andy Farrell

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell


Ireland head coach Andy Farrell

"Faz (Farrell) brings down a TV to the side of the field at the HPC and we'll look at a play and then we'll go out and rep it. Coaches are different.

"Thinking about Twickenham, it's an unbelievable place to go, but I'm probably only thinking about it ten minutes a day rather than 24/7.

"I think Andy backs our qualities as well, to be able to deliver what he shows us. Look, it's a new philosophy and it's completely different from the way we've been playing and it's great. We're only two games into it and we're two from two."

For a man who up until recently struggled so badly with anxiety that his wife once thought he was going to have a heart attack, Earls is certainly relishing the freshness that Farrell has brought.

By his own admission, the winger spent too much of his early career trying to live up to other people's expectations, rather than just doing what he does best on the pitch.

"Definitely, there was a generational thing," Earls maintains.

"I think that's why it took me so long to find myself as well because maybe I was trying to be like Paul (O'Connell) or ROG or some of them old fellas who try and play on emotion every week, which is impossible.

"It's a breath of fresh air coming in now. Like, completely chilled out and being able to enjoy a sport, that's so important. It's great."

Earls faces a tough task to get back into the starting team for the trip to London, but he did strengthen his claims with an excellent performance off the bench in the centre in the win over Wales last weekend.

He remains far more comfortable on the wing, however, and having been involved in his fair share of humdingers against England over the years, Earls is very wary of the threat that Eddie Jones' side will pose, particularly on home soil.

"It's the quality of the side they are, especially in recent times," Earls adds.

"Obviously there's history between the two countries and all that craic as well. They've pumped us a couple of times recently and we won the Grand Slam over there and we denied them a Grand Slam, so there has been a lot of history on the field.

"And between the clubs as well, particularly Saracens and Leinster going for Europe. They're an unbelievable side, getting to a World Cup final, they're all world-class players."

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