British & Irish Lions
Earls will bounce back - Howley
May 31, 2009
Lions assistant coach Rob Howley offers some instruction, British & Irish Lions training session, Pennyhill Park Hotel, Bagshot, England, May 19, 2009
Lions assistant coach Rob Howley is confident centre Keith Earls will learn from a difficult debut © Getty Images

Lions assistant coach Rob Howley is confident centre Keith Earls will bounce back from a disappointing debut in the famous red jersey.

The versatile 21-year-old suffered some big stage nerves, dropping the ball four times in the first half alone, as the Lions laboured to an unconvincing 37-25 victory over the Royal XV in their tour opener. And a shoulder injury added to his woes and means he probably will not be available for Wednesday night's clash against Super 14 side the Golden Lions at Ellis Park.

Howley, a Lions tourist in 1997 and 2001, insists the game will be an important learning experience for Earls and he will benefit in the long-run.

"A Lions jersey can make you do funny things, it can make you 6ft 8in tall or it can make you go out there a drop the ball," said the Lions' attack coach. "Then all of a sudden you're trying to get back into the game with a positive action and then that goes wrong.

"Keith will be a much better player for that experience yesterday. I'm sure he will learn from that game. We've all had those games we want to forget and the players will have seen Keith play yesterday they will all learn and be better players on Wednesday [against the Golden Lions].

"With Keith, it is about nipping it in the bud now by talking about his experience so he will learn and gain confidence from that."

Ireland skipper Brian O'Driscoll also offered some words of encouragement to his compatriot.

"Keith Earls spilled a few passes, and I sought him out afterwards to tell him how impressed I was that he did not let his head drop," O'Driscoll said in the Observer. "He tried to overcompensate after an early slip, but his defence was always strong and he never tried to hide from the ball. He remains a young man with a huge talent that will be seen on this tour."

Earls headed a list of injury concerns revealed by Lions team doctor James Robson this morning with Lions head coach Ian McGeechan is set to make wholesale pre-planned changes when he announces his next side tomorrow.

Other players receiving treatment are scrum-half Mike Blair, who rolled his ankle, centre Ricky Flutey, who will miss training today because of a slight strain, while skipper Paul O'Connell required anaesthetic drops for a small cornea abrasion

Elsewhere, fly-half Ronan O'Gara took a bang on his shoulder, Mike Phillips is progressing well from a dead leg and prop Andrew Sheridan has severe blisters on his feet.

Robson, meanwhile, delivered an upbeat assessment of two players who missed the Royal XV encounter through injury.

Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is now fit after suffering a leg muscle strain getting off the team bus last week. "It was a bizarre injury, and an early contender for bizarre injury of the tour," said Robson.

And Wales No.8 Andy Powell is back in training today doing weights after picking up a hand injury that denied him a starting place. The Lions also remain hopeful that Leigh Halfpenny will soon link up with the squad after staying at home for intensive treatment on a thigh injury.

"Leigh is doing very well, by all accounts," said Robson. "He did a very good kicking session on Friday, he had a day off yesterday, and he is now going to repeat his kicking and place kicking session."


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