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Page last updated at 09:04 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 10:04 UK

Earls is new Wilkinson - O'Gara

By Simon Austin
BBC Sport in Cape Town

Keith Earls
Earls has scored two tries for the Lions in South Africa

Keith Earls has made the same impact in his debut season as Jonny Wilkinson did 11 years ago, according to British and Irish Lions team-mate Ronan O'Gara.

Earls, 21, is vying for a place in the squad for the second Test against South Africa after a poor start to his tour.

"It's his first season of senior rugby, so to achieve what he has, I don't think anyone has had that impact since Jonny Wilkinson," O'Gara said.

"Attitude is everything in this game and he has it in spades."

Earls, like Wilkinson, played for his country in his first season as a professional, but the Irishman has gone one better by also representing the Lions.

The Munster man, who can play at centre or full-back, scored the only try in Tuesday's 13-13 draw against the Emerging Springboks, adding to his score against the Free State Cheetahs on 6 June.

O'Gara, who plays alongside Earls for both Munster and Ireland, praised the youngster for battling back from his opening-game horror show against the Royal XV.

Earls knocked the ball on several times in that match and played a direct role in the opposition's first try when he spilled a high ball early in the first half.

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O'Gara said: "He has been really well managed since that first day. You saw how he took his try and his kicking game is really good."

The player himself admitted he had been overawed in that first game.

"It was tough, I struggled for the first two weeks and made a couple of mistakes in that match," Earls told BBC Sport.

"I admit I got a bit of a scare when I first saw my name above my seat in the dressing room.

"That's when it hit me, when I thought 'Jesus, I'm playing for the Lions'. At the start of the season I just hoped to get in the Munster side and to play in the Heineken Cup.

"What has happened has been unbelievable."

Earls said O'Gara and Lions skipper Paul O'Connell had helped him turn things round on tour.

"I've got experienced people around me, like Ronan and Pauly, and they urged me on," he said.

The Lions, who lost the first Test 26-21, name their team for the second Test on Thursday and Earls admits he has "that bit of hope" that he will be named in the 22-man squad.

If not, there is a chance he has played his last match of the tour, because only the two Tests remain.

If that is the case, Earls will have ended on a high after his performance against the Emerging Boks.

"I was happy with how it went," he said. "The conditions were really tough - it was like playing in the Magners League on a Friday night.

"But we set out to play some rugby and I think we managed that. It was just a shame we couldn't finish things off."



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see also
Emerging Springboks 13-13 Lions
23 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Payne makes waves on Lions debut
24 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
I gave it my best shot - Williams
24 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Emerging Boks v Lions photos
23 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Emerging Springboks v Lions as it happened
23 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Williams faces last Lions chance
23 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Hook passed fit for Lions bench
22 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions eye changes for second Test
21 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions call for Wasps prop Payne
21 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
South Africa 26-21 Lions
20 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
South Africa v Lions photos
20 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Hayes called up into Lions squad
18 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Southern Kings 8-20 Lions
16 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Western Province 23-26 Lions
13 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Sharks 3-39 Lions
10 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Royal XV 25-37 Lions
30 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions squad selector
07 May 09 |  Rugby Union
2009 Lions: Squad & results
09 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union


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