Electric Earls ready to answer Ireland call
Munster 22 Glasgow 10
Munster coach Anthony Foley believes that Keith Earls is ready to return to the international stage for the first time in two years after producing a riveting display to send the Reds top of the Pro12.
The 27-year-old, who won the last of his 39 caps two years ago against Italy and who has never played under Joe Schmidt, was back to his brilliant best and crowned the official opening of Irish Independent Park with a magnificent performance.
That display, as he finally puts behind him a knee injury which he picked up in Irish camp in the summer and kept him sidelined until January, was polished off with a sublime try.
It came after a depleted Glasgow Warriors side, bidding to hang on to top spot, had reduced the margin to two points going into the final quarter. Earls chased down the right wing and took a diagonal Ian Keatley grubber into his hand with a flick of his boot before diving over.
They wrapped up the bonus point shortly afterwards and coach Foley had no doubt about the quality and significance of the try by Earls.
"I think it was worth the admission fee alone. That try was a sublime bit of skill to get it down. It was a massive turning point in the game and also it gave us the jolt to go forward and get the fourth one," said Foley.
The Munster coach knows that sort of form might see him lose Earls for a few weeks, but he won't begrudge him and will send him into Irish service with every blessing.
"I think with his form and what he is doing I think he is ticking a lot of boxes for a lot of people at the moment, so hopefully in the future we will see Keith in green, but that is somebody else's call.
"It is great we have him back fit and in our squad. It is great strength in-depth in Ireland that they don't have him up there. It is good for us that we had Keith here tonight. Obviously Keith wants to play at the highest level and we appreciate that and hopefully we can push him on into Irish selection."
His side had not beaten Glasgow in their last three games and given that Gregor Townsend came to Cork with 23 of his squad missing due to Six Nations, injuries and suspensions, it would have been a massive blow to Munster had the Warriors triumphed.
But Glasgow, on a bleak day for Scottish rugby, gave it their all and it took a very tight decision by TMO Dermot Moloney, who had Hawk-Eye at his disposal for the first time in a rugby game in Ireland, to rule that Lee Jones' boot had hit touch before he scored in the right corner five minutes from time.
That would have secured a losing bonus point which would have kept Glasgow top of the table but it is Munster who sit top of the pile after CJ Stander followed up Earls' score with their fourth try after a good maul.
Earls shredded the Glasgow defence twice in the opening half but the final pass did not reach its target before Ian Keatley burst through to send last year's Irish U-20 skipper Jack O'Donoghue over to score for the third game in a row.
Former Argentinian international Eusebio Guinazu scored his first Munster try after they were rewarded by going to the corner with a penalty to lead 12-0 at the break.
Glasgow hit back in the third quarter and a try from tighthead prop Rossouw de Klerk gave them real hope but Earls took over from there.
"It is great when you are playing against the top side in the competition at the moment and you come away from it 5-0 in the game with match points. It gives us a bit of confidence after losing over there and losing in the semi-final last season as well as in Thomond Park last year.
"To get the fourth try to go ahead and be outright leaders at this stage is a good achievement for the lads. But it does not matter anything unless you are there in May," added Foley.
scorers - Munster: J O'Donoghue, E Guinazu, K Earls, CJ Stander tries. I Keatley 1 con. Glasgow Warriors: R de Klerk try; C Braid 1 pen, 1 con.
Munster - JJ Hanrahan; A Conway (A Smith, 59), K Earls, D Hurley (capt) (I Dineen, 77), R O'Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams (N Cronin, 77); J Ryan (D Kilcoyne, 65), E Guinazu, BJ Botha (S Archer, 59); D O'Callaghan (S Buckley, 79), B Holland; J O'Donoghue (P Butler, 61), S Dougall, CJ Stander.
Glasgow Warriors - P Murchie (G Bryce, 77); N Matawalu, R Vernon, F Lyle, DTH van der Merwe; C Braid, M McConnell (L Jones, 45); A Allan (J Yanuyanutawa, 64), P MacArthur (D Hall, 37), R de Klerk (D Rae, 69); J Eddie (A Toolis, 77), A Kellock (capt); A Ashe (T Spinks, 69), W Bordill, J Strauss (R Hughes, 69).
ref - N Owens (Wales)