Munster backing Darren Sweetnam to step into the breach to ease 'big loss' of Keith Earls
Munster are backing Darren Sweetnam to step into the breach and perform once again after losing Keith Earls for tomorrow’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens.
Head coach Johann van Graan conceded that the loss of the in-form Ireland star was a blow to his side, but he is backing Corkman Sweetman to step in and step up as he did at the 11th hour when replacing Mike Haley for the quarter-final win over Edinburgh.
Earls suffered a thigh injury in the lead-up to Munster’s win over Cardiff Blues two weeks’ ago and he couldn’t recover in time to take his place.
The winger, who scored both of his side’s try in the last eight win over the Scots, has travelled with the squad to Coventry where they trained at the Ricoh Arena this afternoon.
"We gave him every opportunity to get through the week but we pulled him out at yesterday's training. He wasn't 100% so we gave him up to yesterday,” van Graan said.
"He's a big loss. Obviously it's a game that he really wanted to play and he's been in fantastic form. He played tremendous rugby with two big moments against Edinburgh.
"The next man in, Darren Sweetnam, he's done it so many times this year. I believe it's his ninth start in a row now. He's played some excellent rugby throughout the year and this is a massive moment for him.
"In terms of the team, it's not really a disruption, we've backed out squad the whole season and Sweets is in.
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"Keith travelled over with us. He's one of our leadership group and is one of our most experienced players.
“He's here to give every bit of assistance that he can and every per cent at this stage matters. It's great to have him around and that's why he travelled."
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is backing Sweetnam to perform.
"He's a quality rugby player,” the Ireland flanker said.
“It's not like he's not a regular in the squad, he's had nine starts on the bounce. If anything, he's match fit and ready to go. We've all got 100% faith in all the squad."
Earls' absence compounds the loss of Joey Carbery who was effectively ruled out earlier in the week.
Van Graan is confident that Tyler Bleyendaal can perform in his absence.
"Joey has been fantastic since coming to Munster. He's had some brilliant games at No 10," he said.
"He's been one of our best players in the Champions Cup. Tyler is the general in our team, the
guy that's relaxed and laid back. We've all got so much respect for him.
"He plays a totally different game. he's very calm in his decision making and he will bring a
total different perspective to the game.
"Obviously, they play a different game so we make one or two small adjustments.
"We have four quality out-halves in the group; JJ is on fire, played really well last Friday night against Treviso. I'm looking forward to seeing Tyler play."
This is Munster’s third successive semi-final appearance and, having lost to Saracens in 2017 and Racing 92 last season, CJ Stander is determined to take the next step and reach a first final since 2008.
"I think we've got a group that's been involved in three in the last few years,” he said.
“There's a good leadership group, a good senior group that's leading the charge, so we've given ourselves an opportunity and we're all looking forward to it, just to go out and play our game.
"We need to use our opportunities and enjoy this competition.
"Saracens are a class outfit. They know what they're doing, they've been on top of their game for the last few years. I'm not going to spoil it by telling you what we're going to do but we're looking forward to what we can do.
"We'll concentrate on what we can do out there and take this opportunity. Last year, we disappointed ourselves and it's great to get another chance.
“I think we’ve made massive strides in our game as a team and as players, working under Johann, we’ve got a full year now under our belt so we’re looking forward to it.”
Jean Kleyn also carried an injury into the week, but van Graan said he was 100% fit for selection.