This weekend marks a special occasion for Keith Earls as he takes on the All Blacks for the first time since 2012.
Earls was a part of that ill-fated summer tour of New Zealand in 2012 where Ireland succumbed to a 3-0 series defeat including a 60-0 hammering in the third Test at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
Since then, Earls has missed out on further opportunities to take on the world’s number one side.
He wasn’t involved in the last minute loss to the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium in 2013 and he was suspended for the famous Chicago victory in 2016 due to the red card he received in the emotionally-charged Champions Cup fixture against the Glasgow Warriors, a week after the tragic passing of Anthony Foley.
Although he returned from suspension after that game, he didn’t make the squad who fell to defeat two weeks later at the Aviva Stadium in what will always be remembered as an incredibly physical clash.
“Yeah, it’s been a while since I played against the All Blacks, 2012 was the last time. I’ve only played against them four times and, look, it’s going to be a massive challenge against the number one team in the world and it will be a good chance to test myself.”
Although you would expect Earls to be extra motivated to take on the world champions, especially considering he hasn’t played them in over six years, the Moyross native admits he doesn’t let the occasion get to him.
“Yeah, I don’t get too excited about who we play against anymore, it’s about me getting ready and getting my body ready and enjoying it.
“The fact of it is, it’s New Zealand, it’s an important game, we’re at home. It’s number one vs number two in the rankings and I suppose there’s that bit of edge to it.”
Wednesday is the down day for the Irish squad this week and many members of the squad, including Earls, will be returning home to see their young families.
It’s often easy to forget how difficult it must be for those in the squad who have children to spend such a lengthy period of time away from home when these international windows come around.
For Earls, he will be returning home this evening to forget about the clash with the All Blacks on Saturday. At this stage of his career, the winger has learned how and when to switch off.
“I’m going to see my kids later on, they’ll get me away from it. I certainly don’t like thinking about the game, I like looking at the game and training when I’m within my training hours but outside that, I’m not even thinking about Saturday.
“I’m in training now and we finish up and we get to go home and I enjoy going home to be a father and a husband as well. That’s an exciting part of my week as well.”