Huge blow for Munster and Ireland as Earls ruled out
Big summer signings James Downey and Casey Laulala are set to start Munster's Heineken Cup campaign after a late injury blow ruled out Irish star Keith Earls.
A stunned Munster have been forced to concede that key pair Earls (right) and Wian du Preez will miss their side's opening Heineken Cup clash against Racing Metro at the Stade de France on Saturday.
Earls must now be rated as a serious doubt for Ireland's crucial November series of internationals against South Africa and Argentina.
It is a massive setback for new coach Rob Penney, who faces his first big test as Munster seek to emulate last season's progression to the knockout stages.
Du Preez is likely to be replaced by Dave Kilcoyne, who was repeatedly penalised by Welsh referee Leighton Hodges in last weekend's defeat to Leinster -- though Penney was keen to defend him afterwards.
Earlier in the day, Munster assistant coach Simon Mannix had stressed James Coughlan was the only player unavailable for selection.
However, it has emerged that utility back Earls tore a groin muscle during last weekend's defeat to Leinster in Lansdowne Road while South African loosehead prop Du Preez suffered a knee injury.
Both players have been restricted in their movement all week and Munster were eager to avoid any word of the damage seeping out as they nervously anticipate this week's clash against the French side.
Niall Ronan has also been ruled out and with Munster still unable to confirm when Paul O'Connell might return, their opening tie appears even more perilous. Given the manner in which Munster have kept their injury woes close to their chest this week, in an attempt to bluff opponents Racing Metro, O'Connell's injury status remains a mystery.
"Earls (groin) saw a specialist this afternoon and will be out for a number of weeks and Du Preez who injured a knee in the game against Leinster, sees a specialist tomorrow when a time frame on his absence can be better established," said a Munster statement.
"Niall Ronan, who was a late withdrawal from the squad for the Leinster game, did train today but didn't take a full part and is unlikely to be in consideration for the Racing game."
Donncha O'Callaghan continues to recover from a hamstring strain and is likely to be fit, while Felix Jones could make a surprise return to the side, despite not having played a minute of rugby this season.