Kiwi commentator pulls out sublime Keith Earls quote after his try assist
Plenty of road ahead for the old dog.
In general terms, Keith Earls is still a young man with plenty of years left ahead of him. In rugby terms, we are often amazed that any backline player over 32 can still shift about the place.
Props and locks may not even hit their true primes until their late 20s or early 30s [Brad Thorn is 47 now and could still do a job], but many backs are being readied for pasture by the time they hit 30. Former Leinster and Ireland fullback Rob Kearney once told us:
"When you hit the other side of 30, you're probably seen as a player on his way out, as opposed to coming up through the ranks. You get away with it in your early 20s, as people are calling on you to get in. I was on the good side of it 10 years back, so I suppose I'm on the other side of it now too."
What adds to the legend of Keith Earls is the fact he has been a senior Munster player since he was 19. Many rugby players may get tastes of senior action at 20, 21 or 22, but Earls the teenager was plonked in early because Declan Kidney & Co. thought he could handle it.
Earls made his Ireland debut a few weeks after his 20th birthday, with Kidney now the Ireland coach, and was a British & Irish Lions bolter at 20, too. If some saw that as surprise, the bigger one is Earls not making another Lions tour after that [particularly in 2021].
The Moyross native has signed a contract extension with Munster and the IRFU that will take him past his 36th birthday and the end of the World Cup. If he gets to play at his fourth World Cup, it would be his 15th season representing his country.
On Monday, for the first time, in his own words, since he led out the Thomond Under 14s, Earls was named captain for a game. Andy Farrell asked him to captain Ireland's midweek side against the Maori All Blacks. It was one of the biggest honours of his career, he said, and had a fine game. The Kiwi commentators certainly loved his contributions.
Keith Earls: From young flyer to wily veteran
The positive Covid test that saw Connacht winger Mack Hansen have to isolate himself for a week, after landing in New Zealand, saw Keith Earls start the first game against the Maori side, then start again in the First Test against New Zealand.
Not a bother to the Munster veteran, he scored one superb, early try and came close to a second in that Eden Park defeat. With Hansen cleared to play again, he was unlucky to miss out entirely on the Second Test squad. Earls simply put his head down and got on with his tour, knowing he was likely to feature in the second midweek game.
And so, after 15 seasons and over 300 games, Earls the captain led this young Ireland side out against a Maori All Blacks side that had been clear winners in their first encounter. Sure enough, he had another fine outing.
Seven minutes in, with Ireland trailing to an early Shaun Stevenson try, the visitors had an attacking lineout just a few metres outside the Maori 22. As both sets of forwards ambled into position, Earls was thinking on his toes. He got hold of the ball quickly and fired a pass at the charging Jordan Larmour - try Ireland, and under the posts, too. The Kiwi commentators, on Sky Sport NZ, were loving it.
"Keith Earls, may be long in the tooth but he's sharp as a tack!"
No arguing with that. Earls may have lost that hair trigger burst of pace, after 15 years at the top, but his mind is as sharp as ever.
If anyone was doubting the Ireland captain's stamina, too, his 80+ minute performance put that to bed, with extra warm milk. Following the game, Earls said:
"It was very pleasing… a lot of young lads. Good players but a lot of young lads that didn’t know what it takes to play big boy rugby.
"We knew if you give these boys time and space, 9 times out of 10 they’ll pick the right option… we knew our physicality had to be right up there."
With his match-day squad for the Third Test against New Zealand to decide, Andy Farrell is likely to start Bundee Aki in place of the concussed and sidelined Garry Ringrose.
That means the No.23 jersey will be up for grabs. Stuart McCloskey and Jordan Larmour both put their hands up against the Maori All Blacks but, if Farrell goes for a 5:3 split on the bench, Earls could have one final job to do before he can head off on his summer break.