Flying Earls poised to take centre stage
Ireland's Six Nations wing wizard Keith Earls will be catapulted into centre stage for Munster's defining clash of the season against Northampton Saints in Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final clash at Thomond Park.
Earls was yesterday named in the Munster squad as concerns over last week's groin injury abated -- captain Paul O'Connell is also hoping to return from a similar injury although neither player trained yesterday.
Munster coach Tony McGahan will likely emulate his former boss Declan Kidney by calculating that switching Earls from the left wing to the thick of the action at outside centre will aid his side's spluttering back-line.
Kidney started Earls on the wing during this year's Six Nations campaign but an enforced switch to midfield following an injury to Gordon D'Arcy against Wales justified his oft-stated desire to eventually nail down Brian O'Driscoll's No 13 jersey.
Earls finished as joint top scorer in the RBS Six Nations -- he scored twice against Wales following his positional switch -- and has formed a potent understanding with Springbok World Cup-winner Jean de Villiers, even though they have only played together twice this campaign.
O'Connell yesterday defended criticisms of his performances during Ireland's Six Nations campaign as his focus switches to recovering from injury to lead Munster into their third meeting with the English side.
"It's a massive week. It's the biggest week of our year -- Heineken Cup, home quarter-final, playing in Thomond Park, against an English team.
"For Munster players in the professional era this has always been a competition that we want to win, and when you're playing at home they are the biggest days for Munster players. It's a massive week for us."