herald

Saturday 1 November 2014

Earls vows that he'll box clever

IRELAND'S Keith Earls has benefitted from the advice of Olympic light-heavyweight silver medallist Kenny Egan.

At the start of the season, the Moyross man put away the small and many superstitions that clogged up his working week.

It was getting out of hand, carrying three different rosary beads and a medal, kissing one three times and another four times in order to fend off the dread of injury or inconsistency.

"I gave up all my superstitions. They were driving me mad. They're all gone out the window," he said.

The Irish boxer regaled Earls with how he shared a joke and a laugh all the way up to 15 minutes before a bout as part of his preparation.

It hit home with Earls: "I try to have a different routine and not think about the game. When I think about it, I drive myself mad. That is the kind of thing I'm trying to take on board."

Earls has taken to kicking a tennis ball against a wall, playing handball, listening to music or taking a peek at pictures of his family in the build-up to big matches.

It is only now that the self-confidence to be true to himself has come with the maturity of a man on a mission to give what he can the best way he can. He finally feels at home on the international stage.

"If I had it all over again, I would relax a bit more," he says, looking back on the start of his international career as a 21-year-old.

"I thought if the lads see me kicking around a tennis ball, they'll think 'this fella isn't clued in'. Kenny told me to do what feels right.

Instinct

"He said he doesn't like to think about it. He has a routine. I feel I am an instinct player and I just like to get out there without thinking too much.

"Once I am fit and healthy and feeling sharp, I'm making my half-breaks, I'm enjoying my rugby no matter where that is. I am willing to put on any jersey."

Earls has put to bed demands to play at outside centre for club and country and corrects previous comments as "frustration and hatred" for what happened against New Zealand in June.

Of course, the All Blacks remain the gold standard. Argentina are no mugs either. They are mean, macho men that play a mean game of rugby.

"They're physical men. They're hard and they play hard. They're passionate fellas. They've come a long way with their game," concedes Earls.

"They're putting teams under pressure and they're coming up with some great results. It is great to see them evolve."

The same can be mentioned of Earls. He has put the humiliation of England's Manu Tuilagi taking him on the outside in that World Cup warm-up international last year to show commendable courage and commitment in defence.

He looked sharp against South Africa: "I was happy just to get through it. It was my first game in five weeks. I felt good. I've been training hard and doing an extra bit of 'stepping'."

The evidence of this work was seen as he glided past South Africans two Saturdays ago, changing lanes with all the smoothness of a Rolls Royce.

The same again would do nicely against Argentina.

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