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Monday 18 December 2017

Earls craves future at '13'

Keith Earls believes he is shedding his utility tag as he plots his route to becoming Ireland's long-term successor to Brian O'Driscoll at outside centre.

Earls is the RBS Six Nations' top try- scorer with three and will be Scotland's main concern when the wooden spoon contenders arrive in Dublin on Saturday.

The 22-year-old Munster back, whose strike rate stands at six tries in nine matches, has played at full-back, winger and outside centre.

On Saturday he will once again fill the number 11 jersey from where he has caused so much damage this championship, but Earls hopes to eventually move up the three-quarter line.

"I'm enjoying playing in the wing but I also liked playing at 13 with Munster before I joined up with Ireland," he said.



Concern

"The full-back thing has slipped away. Hopefully in the future I'll be 13.

"I was a bit concerned by my versatility a few months back -- I don't want the number 22 jersey.

"Luke Fitzgerald's injury gave me a chance on the left wing, while if Gordon D'Arcy or Brian O'Driscoll go off for Ireland, I can slot in at 13."

Earls explains his emergence as a ruthless finisher at Test level by his growing comfort within the squad, leading to his stellar display in Saturday's 27-12 victory over Wales.

"I'm happy with my strike rate. It's over 50pc which is great," he said.

"I feel like I've settled in now. I'm that bit more confident around the squad.

"It's good to be playing well and to be a regular this season. I'm more relaxed and there's a good buzz in training.

"I really enjoyed the Wales match. It was a great game to be involved in, especially after last year when it was a Grand Slam decider. There's a big rivalry between us so to get two tries and beat them the way we did was great.

"It was definitely my best game for Ireland. It was a big game in a major tournament so it was good to get on the scoreboard."

Ireland will claim their fifth Triple Crown in seven years if they beat the Scots, but Earls has been reminded of the lean years.

Before 2004, Ireland had completed the clean sweep of the home unions on just five occasions with gaps of 49 and 33 years dividing other vintage seasons.

"To be in the position of challenging for a Triple Crown is surreal," he said.

"My father remembers 1985 and now I have a chance to go down in history as well. It's a brilliant feeling but it will be a tough day.

"The Triple Crown means a lot to (coach) Declan Kidney and the players.

"We'd be the best of the home nations and that's still a great achievement."

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