Keith Earls really, really, really wants to play outside centre for Munster, and presumably Ireland. The details are here in Earls’ interiew with Charlie Mulqueen in the Examiner.
It’s not the first time he’s made these sort of noises, and unlike his media-schooled colleagues, Keith Earls is the one Irish player who is something of an open book in interviews, and doesn’t seem to mind coming out with heartfelt, honest comments that could leave him in a tight spot. It’s great to see his wide-eyed enthusiasm for the game as well – makes one smile.
However, we’ve mixed feelings on his latest. We’ve no problem with him saying he wants to play 13 – that’s fair, so why not come out and say it? We’re always commenting that he’s been messed around too much in his career, so he’s right to try and nail down a position for himself.
But by saying he “hate[s] playing 11″ he is in danger of making a rod for himself, and others. He’s played the majority of his international career and much of his club games there, and if he hates it so much, he at least appears to have made a decent fist of it. At some point he’ll be called upon to play there, and it puts unnecessary pressure on his coaches when they do it.
Last year his game improved hugely at 13 and he has surely earned the right to start the season in that position. We would see Earls as one of the players Penney should be looking to build the new Munster team around. Trouble is as a centrally contracted player he’ll be missing the first few weeks of the season, so Laulala has a headstart in the 13 jumper. Also, Laulala is an out-and-out 13 with little versatility - Earls can be accommodated elsewhere, but Laulala cannot. Can Munster afford to leave such talent on the bench? Or can Penney, as a new coach, afford to marginalise one of his best players?
It’s a most interesting quandry for Penney. Thirteenwatch starts early this year.