Sunday 22 April 2018

Foley keeps quiet as Earls stakes claim for Euro clash

Keith Earls
Keith Earls
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The questions came but Anthony Foley was giving nothing away after another week of speculation surrounding who might be next in or out of the revolving doors.

What of Peter O'Mahony's contract? Will Tomas O'Leary come home? Could Pat Howard extend his stay down south? Is Rob Horne soon to be a Munster player?

Foley kicked for touch at every opportunity, revealing only that things were ongoing with O'Mahony and that Tyler Bleyendaal will join up with the province towards the end of the month.

After losing JJ Hanrahan earlier in the week - despite Foley previously hinting that negotiations were going well - the landscape has changed a little for Munster's recruiters.

Hanrahan gets the nod in today's visit to Zebre. But once more he starts at his less favoured position of inside centre. Ian Keatley, as he has done for most of the year, takes the No 10 shirt and Foley makes no apologies for standing by the man that has helped ensure Munster are still standing in both competitions.

"Ian Keatley has done very well for us so far this year," he said. "In key moments he has kept us in competitions; the last minute drop goal against Sale, the performance against Saracens and the last-minute kick against Clermont to get us a point.

"They were all crucial moments on his shoulders and he had the experience to do that. Retaining Keats is a massive bonus for us and a massive statement going forward.

"Losing JJ, unfortunately he didn't feel like sitting in the shadow of Keats maybe and playing number two. He wants to play No 10 and he feels he'll probably get that chance in Northampton. That's his decision."

There is good news with the return of Keith Earls, who starts on the bench. He is set to make his first appearance of the season after damaging a knee in Ireland's pre-season camp. With a do or die Champions Cup match against Saracens around the corner next Saturday, Earls (pictured) has a very small window in which to force himself into the reckoning.

"He has had a long road to recovery since doing his patella tendon and he got a procedure done on that early in the season and has worked his way back into contention," Foley said.

"We need to see where he is at this weekend before we can put him ahead of others who have played consistently well throughout the season for us so far. It's an opportunity for him to stake a claim."

After the top four sides lost last weekend, the Pro 12 table has a more condensed look to it. Connacht chinned Munster last time out in a game that Foley's men had lead 13-0 at one stage. That came on the back of the comprehensive dismissal of Leinster and was another example of the inconsistency that has frustrated the province this season.

"We'll take a result (against Zebre) whatever way it comes. We'd love to get a win. There are no guarantees on that because it is away from home. We also want a more consistent performance. Against Connacht we were 13-0 up and everything going as you should play with the wind at your back. Then for 15 minutes we don't touch the ball and Connacht scored a try and that turned the game. And they went on to win it obviously.

"It's about the ability to keep the game within our control and we lost that for a period against Connacht. That becomes frustrating but we need to move on and try and get that performance that we had in the first half against Glasgow, that we had against Leinster and for 20-odd minutes against Connacht."

Today's opposition prop up the Pro12 table but Ulster can attest to their potential when click at home.

In all there are seven changes to the Munster side. Loosehad Eusebio Guinazu makes his first start for the province while Peter O'Mahony makes his first start at openside. Howard and Hanrahan make up the midfield with Keatley and Murray reunited at half-back ahead of the trip to London next week.

Zebre field a largely inexperienced side and Munster should have enough to get by here and then the squad can get down to the real busniess of the following week in the Champions Cup.

"We want fellas putting their hand up and to go after positions within the squad and team," Foely said. "Everyone knows the importance of this week."

Verdict: Munster

Zebre- D Odiete; G Venditti, T Iannone, K Haimona, L Sarto; E Padovani, B Leonard; A De Marchi, A Manici, L Redolfini; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); F Cristiano, Mauro Bergamasco, A Van Schalkwyk

Reps: O Fabiani, L Leibson, D Chistolini, V Bernabo, J Sarto, L Orquera, Mirco Bergamasco, G Palazzani.

Munster - F Jones; R O'Mahony, P Howard, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; E Guinazu, K O'Byrne, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O'Callaghan, P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander.

Reps: N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, Donncha O'Callaghan, P Butler, D Williams, K Earls, J Murphy.

ref - I Davies (WRU)

Irish Independent

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