Belfast Telegraph

Stop comparing us with great Munster teams of past: Earls


Huge frustration: Keith Earls is tired of comparisons with
trophy-winning Munster sides, arguing the game has evolved
Huge frustration: Keith Earls is tired of comparisons with trophy-winning Munster sides, arguing the game has evolved
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Maybe the old ball player Sparky Anderson nailed a home run when asked about the folly of chasing faded memories as one tries to plot a forward path.

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"I've got my faults," he told us, "but living in the past isn't one of them - there's no future in it."

And then we heard Donncha O'Callaghan making an interesting point on radio, and the fact that it was him making it, and on national radio too, made it even more thought-provoking.

He was talking about the fact that he had travelled to and from Munster's Heineken Champions Cup clash in Paris on the team charter and that, in his eyes, the travelling supporters were all the familiar faces he recognised from the time he started regularly making these journeys at the start of this century.

The way he related it was almost as if it were a trip back in time; it certainly wasn't a glance at a bright future yet.

O'Callaghan is now a pundit, as most retired Irish professionals seem to be these days; the media scrum to point out Munster's manifold mis-steps has been a fiercely contested affair for some time now.

Keith Earls is the mildest mannered man on the western side of the Shannon but even he seems faintly exasperated.

The way he sees it is, fine, Europe may be no more by this Sunday but, after forging winning positions with barely minutes to go in successive away ties against multiple European champions Saracens and moneybags Racing 92, the margins are too thin to lay it on thick about the good old days.

"It is amazing," said the Irish winger, who will mark the beginning of what will be an impressive 13th calendar year when incoming Ireland coach Andy Farrell names him in his inaugural Six Nations squad.

"That is the standard people expect of a Munster team. Over Christmas, we probably did embarrass ourselves up in Ulster.

"Leinster are Leinster, they are a quality side. Losing at home was very disappointing. But at the weekend, we were in it for 71 minutes and if one or two decisions went our way, then it would be a different story.

"But with Munster we are just not used to losing three in a row. People just need to stop comparing us to the old Munster as well.

"They compare us to a very successful era. The game has evolved since then and the difference in rugby is completely different to what it was back then."

The argument is that Munster haven't evolved, or at least haven't done so half as quickly as they should have.

Constant transition, some of it involuntary, hasn't helped as they aim to bridge the now 12-year gap to their last title; it took them 11 years to win their first.

"The gap now is a bit longer for us," said Earls, who can paradoxically claim to be one of the erstwhile legends given he claimed a winners' medal in '08.

"But how many heartaches did they have before they won one? They had the memory of being in two finals and a couple of semi-finals before they actually won it in 2006.

"No one had done it before them and the expectation was only to be seen to get into a semi-final and a final. But now it is completely different for us."

The old fogeys also remember the days when the men in red were used to regularly beating Leinster. Those days are gone.

"It probably is," agreed Earls before asking, answering and then dismissing his own question in one frustrated breath.

"And why is that? I suppose a bigger pool to look at. They have a lot more players.

"It is no excuse, but we should be up there with them. We have a young enough group and some new lads in, a new coaching staff, and hopefully starting this weekend we can kick on again."

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