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Earls targets Six Nations lift

Keith Earls admits Ireland's Munster contingent enter the RBS 6 Nations still seething from their Heineken Cup failure.

The 2009 champions launch their bid to reclaim the title they surrendered to France last year when they meet Italy at Stadio Flaminio on Saturday. Earls is among Munster's shrinking Ireland contingent - their number has been whittled down to six - and the Lions winger insists they are fired up by recent events.

"Our hunger has definitely been sharpened by what happened with Munster. It was the worst feeling ever when we went out," he said. "The week after was tough but the lads are still hungry. The Six Nations is a new competition with new players and a new gameplan."

At provincial level, Irish rugby continues to flourish with Leinster and Ulster through to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

But the absence of Munster from the knockout stages for the first time since 1998 has sent shock waves around the region, resulting in a string of obituaries being written for the two-time European champions.

Earls added: "It was a shock to the supporters more than anyone. We made a bit of bad history by being the first Munster team to go out in 13 seasons.

"We'll learn from our mistakes because we beat ourselves in a couple of games. We'll learn from it and be stronger. It won't be the end of us."

Munster's only other representative in a back line dominated by Leinster is scrum-half Tomas O'Leary, but Earls insists provincial rivalries are forgotten in the Ireland camp.

"It's not an issue. I've been with Ireland for the last two years and I get on great with the Leinster lads," he said. "I played in a Leinster back line against Fiji two years ago. It was a good game.

"It's good playing with different players who have different lines of running. They get to know you. There was a bit of banter a couple of years ago but not now. Now we just concentrate on what we have to do."


From Belfast Telegraph