AHEAD of Munster Rugby’s new season, Ireland star Keith Earls sat down for a Q&A with the Limerick Post to discuss the season ahead, competition for places and how he is looking forward to getting back on the field.
Tough season last year?
It was a tough season last year for me. I had a couple of abductor tears in my shoulder towards the end of the season. I need this season to get fit and just enjoy my rugby.
There are some new, young faces in the squad this year, are you now a Senior member?
It is getting a bit ridiculous now to be honest. You have JJ Hanrahan there, who only had his 21st last week. I am starting to get invited to more and more weddings now too which is a bad sign. (laughs). Being 25, I am becoming one of the oldest in the backline too. It is good for me too though. The lads are coming to me and asking me questions. It forces me to do that little bit extra as I know the younger lads are going to be coming to me for advice.
Was the Lions tour tough to watch this summer?
No. Not really. I had a poor season last season, with injury and all, so I knew quiet early that I was not going to be in contention for selection. I was just trying to get into the Ireland squad last season. It was good to watch the lads. I am pretty close to Conor Murray, we went to school together, so it was great to watch the two Munster lads. Paul has achieved so much in the game already, but it was great for Murray to get that call up.
What are your thoughts on Peter O’Mahony as captain?
He is a good speaker. Much like Paulie too, he leads on the field as well. Fellas row in behind him too like. It is always good to get a fresh voice as well. Not that Paulie’s voice was tiring, but he has those players to help him too. He was a great choice for me.
There appears to be more competition for places in the backline than ever before, does that worry you?
It is all about staying fit for me. That gives you the best chance of staying in the team or making yourself available for selection. There is a lot of good signings coming in too, so that keeps you on your toes. At training you need to do those last few extras to stay ahead of the others.
Will these new and younger existing players find it difficult to carry the Munster mantle?
We have lost a good few in recent years. A lot of fellas have come in too and put up their hands up. Just look at the likes of Murray, Kilcoyne, Sherry and O’Donnell. Just from looking at training already this season, you can see that Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan have stepped up to another level. I have been delighted with how they have taken control of the backline already and to be honest, I am very excited about it. People are putting us down, saying that we do not have many massive names anymore, but it is up to us now to make this place our own.
Has it been weird around the place without Ronan O’Gara?
It is. We had a backs meeting when we came back and he normally sits up the front next to me. It was weird to be sitting there next to an empty chair alight. I’ll have to find someone else to sit next to. When you think that Dougie is not there either now too, it is a lot quieter, but as I said, that can make lads come out of their shells a little more.
Was it a shock, O’Gara leaving?
I don’t know how long he was thinking about it, but it was a shock alright. I would have liked him to stay on for one more year, but it came out of the blue really. He knows what he wants too of course. He is a competitive fella and he wanted to do it his way. He could have walked into a coaching job here straight away, but he wanted to go away and better himself, before maybe coming back someday.
Will Munster be concentrating more on the RaboDirect Pro12 this season?
It is important to get a good start. We dropped some silly points last year, particularly in away games. I know we were learning a new game plan too. We have really broken that down in preseason and we are getting back to our basics for that game plan to work. I think this season should be a lot better. With a second season with this game plan, not using it as an excuse, we should be better suited to starting the season better.
Is there more pressure this season, seeing as Munster missed out on a semi final spot last year?
You want to put in a perfect performance every time. You never, as a player, get sick of winning, so we need to start well and go from there. To win every game is not possible, but we need to win more than we did last season.
Have you any personal goals this season?
I just want to stay healthy and get into good shape. Maybe a week before I am due to get back on the field I might sit down and do some individual goals for on the field. I do have some fitness goals for preseason, so I will look at the playing side of things when I get a chance in the team.
Are you mentally tougher following last season’s injury hit year?
I would think that I am yes. I am excited to start playing rugby again. It is the longest I have been out of the game. Four months since the Clermont game have been really long. I am just itching to get back on the field. I am expected to be back for RaboDirect week 3-4. We are not going to rush it back. We did that for the semi final and that ended in the worst case scenario.
Will you be looking to put pressure in new Ireland coach Joe Schimdt to select you for the Autumn Internationals?
It would be nice alright, but the plan is to get on the Munster team first. There is some serious competition in the back line at the moment and it is the same in the Ireland camp. There is some serious talent in the Irish set up at the moment. Hopefully we can get it all together for a good November and Six Nations.
Your thoughts on Joe Schimdt?
From what I hear he is a great coach. I spoke to Johnny Sexton about him recently and Johnny regards him as one of the best coaches he has worked with in the World. If Sexton says that about you, you must be good. I am excited too that he is a backs coach too. That is something different.
Keith Earls was speaking at the Launch of the adidas Munster Rugby jerseys. adidas and Munster Rugby officially launched the club’s 2013/14 home and alternate kit with the help of Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray and Keith Earls. The new Munster collegiate red home jersey includes new features such as an adidas rugby collar with the six Munster counties embroidered into it, sub blue shoulder panelling and mesh panelling under the arms. The sub blue alternate jersey has a camouflage pattern embossed with the counties of Munster to create both textural and aesthetic appeal and also includes a new collegiate red adidas rugby collar stand and mesh panelling under the arm.
The jersey and kit is available to buy from the 23rd August in all Life Style Sports Stores and online at www.lifestylesports.com/munster