Thursday 14 December 2017

Earls takes centre stage for crucial Saracens test

Keith Earls. Photo: Sportsfile
Keith Earls. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor George

Conor George

KEITH EARLS will make his seasonal Heineken Cup debut when Munster take on Saracens at Thomond Park tomorrow evening.

Earls, who was injured for the opening two European games against Racing Metro and Edinburgh, will be partnered in the centre by James Downey, with the pair challenged to provide the cut-and-thrust to resuscitate Munster's European ambitions.

Munster cannot afford to lose against Saracens in Limerick – or indeed in the corresponding fixture at Vicarage Road next week – and will rely on Downey's strong running to create space for Earls.

Rob Penney has flirted with the idea of pairing Earls with Casey Laulala in the centre but this did not work during the early Celtic League games.

Laulala will be named on the bench as the back three of Felix Jones, Doug Howlett and Simon Zebo from last week's game against Glasgow is retained en bloc. Ronan O'Gara and Conor Murray will be the starting half-backs.

There will be changes in the pack, however. James Coughlan has returned from injury and will be restored to his No 8 spot while Peter O'Mahony will pack down at openside. Dave O'Callaghan will make his first Heineken Cup start at blindside flanker.

Dave Kilcoyne will continue in the front-row alongside Mike Sherry and BJ Botha with Donncha O'Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan in the second-row.

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