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It’s Earls’ time to come of age

By Niall Crozier

The date was March 19, 2000 — the day on which Brian O’Driscoll, who had just turned 21, alerted the world to his now fully realised potential by chalking up a hat-trick of tries at the hosts’ then still new national stadium.

Earls recalls: “I remember watching it at home and I remember going into school on the Monday. I think I was in fifth or sixth class in school and I remember drawing a picture of Brian scoring a try and having three French fellas crying.”

As the laughter following his revelation subsides, he is more serious as he attempts to weigh up what lies ahead. This will be his first 6 Nations start, his entry to that particular arena having come last weekend when, in the 56th minute, he took over from Andrew Trimble who could feel the tightening of a hamstring.

Earls did well enough to have forced a switch of roles. This time he starts and Trimble looks like being on the still-to-be-decided bench.

Earls said: “It’s a massive challenge. It’s a tough place to go but I’ve a bit of experience with the Heineken Cup, playing against Perpignan. I can’t wait for the challenge.

“It has been a good couple of years since we won in Paris but I think we just have to go over there and get a good start. I think the last couple of years we let France get a couple of scores up and then we had to fight back

“But we have a good game plan set and we’ll try and play that. Hopefully we’ll get the result.”

Calling on the experience gained against French opponents while on Heineken Cup duty for Munster, repeatedly he stresses the importance of starting well.

“That’s massive. If you get the first couple of scores you can nearly turn the crowd against them. It’s vital we get a good start and just let them know we’re here to play a match and aren’t just here to make up the numbers.”

Stressing that there are no easy away matches nowadays, he accepts that if what the media suggests is true, Paris probably is the hardest venue of the lot from which to emerge with a result.

Nevertheless, the prospect of playing there delights him.

“It’s my first 6 Nations start and as I say in all of my interviews I still pinch myself,” he admits.

He admits, too, that he found it tough being left out of the starting line-up for the Italy game having played — and played well — against Fiji and South Africa in November, this following inclusion on the Lions summer tour.

“I suppose moving to 13 with Munster didn’t really help,” he suggests. “And Trimby (Andrew Trimble) was in great form, scoring a great individual try (for Ulster) against Bath. He’s been brilliant so he deserved a run to be honest with you.

“So it was tough, but playing at 13 it was going to be hard to go on the wing.”

He is confident that having played and won in France with Munster will stand him in good stead.

Recalling having played in the side that beat Perpignan he makes no attempt to disguise the pleasure that gave him.

“That was a massive boost for us,” he enthuses.

Asked about the quality of the wingers France are able to boast he revealed that these days he

does not spend time worrying or wondering about opponents.

“I used to,” he admits. “But now I concentrate on myself and my own game. If I just do the basics right I’m happy.

“I’ll just worry about myself.”

Meanwhile, France have been hit by a triple blow with the news that Aurelien Rougerie, Luc Ducalcon and Benjamin Fall have all been forced to pull out of the side.

Marc Lievremont had initially included the trio in his squad for Saturday's game despite them carrying knocks. Rougerie lasted only a few minutes of France's impressive victory over Scotland in their opener at Murrayfield, and the Clermont Auvergne wing has been replaced by Brive's Alexis Palisson.

The 22-year-old, who has five caps, was dropped from the squad when it was cut from 30 to 25.

Reports suggest Rougerie could be sidelined for up to three weeks.

Toulouse prop Jean-Baptiste Poux replaces Ducalcon with the 30-year-old coming back into the France squad for the first time in two years.

There seemed to be better news about Fall, who was initially pronounced fit, but the Bayonne wing has now been replaced by Clermont's Julien Malzieu.

Belfast Telegraph

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