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We can't afford to get lost in our own hype, says Earls

 

Staying focused: Keith Earls won’t take feet off the ground
Staying focused: Keith Earls won’t take feet off the ground

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Almost a decade has passed since Ireland last came into a Six Nations in such rude health.

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In 2010, Declan Kidney's charges were looking to follow an unbeaten calendar year that saw them complete a Grand Slam, supply a record number of players to the Lions and beat the World No.1 South Africans in Dublin in November.

They came into their defence on the crest of a wave, but a hefty defeat in Paris derailed their efforts and while they recovered to beat England in Twickenham and Wales in Dublin, they slipped up against Scotland in the final game in Croke Park to finish second to the French.

Having been on the fringes of the squad for the Grand Slam season, Keith Earls was in his first full season as a regular during the tournament.

Nearly a decade on, he faces a similar scenario as Joe Schmidt's side approach Saturday's opening game against England.

"I can't really remember that far back," he said with a smile when asked to reflect on the lessons of 2010. "I suppose we can't fall in love with ourselves and think it's going to happen again.

"To win the Grand Slam last year was massive, we knew how hard it was and what we had to do but I think we're just going again now.

"The bug is there to win another one. We're taking it game by game, whether it's the Championship or a Grand Slam - this group is good at enjoying success and then re-focusing to go again, to try and retain the trophy.

"Enjoy the moment and move on. It is a short career, but enjoy it when you can and then move on to the next job and enjoy them all when you've retired.

"Especially for me, from getting the bug of winning one.

"I enjoyed it, I want to put it to bed and I want to go after another Championship - whether it's a Championship or a Grand Slam. Then enjoy them when I retire.

"I've played in great squads but I think it is (the best at handling expectation), especially what we've achieved in the last two or three years, we've been the first to do a lot of things.

"We've played in big matches, they're a great bunch of lads and we don't get carried away.

"It's just about winning, and doing whatever it takes to win, enjoying the win together, going on to the next job to win a bit more.

"They're used to winning now, we know it just doesn't happen, we've to work hard."

England may be the big one in the eyes of the fans looking in, but for Earls there is no bigger international than another.

Experience has told him to treat each occasion like the next.

"There's massive rivalry there," he said.

"I think the whole competition they're all the same, my biggest thing is playing every game and treating it the same.

"For us, it's an international and it's a huge honour for us to play. I try not to disrespect or respect a team any less than any other team.

"I just take all the internationals. That's the biggest thing for me, not taking them too seriously.

"Obviously you care about them but it's a game of rugby at the end of the day and as long as I can prepare well and go out and do everything I can to win in an Ireland jersey then that's it, I don't need any other motivational factors."

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