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Keith Earls finally completes long road back

By Jonathan Bradley

For the longest of times it seemed as if Keith Earls would not be present at the World Cup, let alone starting on the wing against Canada today (2.30pm).

The man who started all five of Ireland's games in New Zealand four years ago has endured a horrendous run of luck on the injury front since and the Munsterman only made his first appearance under Joe Schmidt against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in August.

He admits that his return to both fitness and the fold feels like a career renaissance.

"It's happened really fast, it's nearly like the start of my career again," he said.

"I've worked really hard, I set myself goals every couple of weeks. I sat down before I came back to training and set myself the goal of making the 31-man squad and then set myself another goal of making the 23-man matchday squad.

"I'm delighted, I'm fit and I'm healthy. I'm grateful that I'm playing."

Starting on the wing, again against Wales, at the Aviva Stadium at the end of last month, it appeared misfortune had once again struck the 27-year-old.

Following a big collision with the formidable frame of George North, Earls was knocked out cold but, able to go through the return to play protocols, he was cleared to take his place in the 31-man squad announced the following Tuesday.

It was, however, a worrying sight, even if Earls reveals that he came around quickly.

"It was my own fault, just getting my head (on the wrong side of the tackle with North), well, it was an instinct," recalled the man who incidentally won his first cap in a try-scoring performance against the Canadians back in 2008.

"When George North is running at you, you tend to put your head down to knock him.

"I was in the dressing room afterwards and I was happy I could remember the game but the fact that I was out for the couple of seconds, the physios didn't want to move me on the pitch because it's quite important these days with neck injuries and stuff.

"The first question I asked the doctor was 'did I knock him?' That was the main thing for me but, yeah, I came around fully.

"I'm not the biggest winger or the biggest centre in the world so it can be tough at times but I'm quite happy with my defence. I'm starting to stick on big fellas now.

"I'm doing a lot of work with Kissy (Les Kiss).

"I've made a lot of sacrifices to get here and I'm sure my fiancée and my family are delighted it's paid off as well, because they've had to put up with me training a lot."

Those sacrifices will surely all seem worth it this afternoon.

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