Earls aims to end tough season with silverware
Wing believes Munster can storm Glasgow fortress despite Warriors' strong run of form
Considering that injury has robbed Keith Earls of the chance to shine in the last 10 Ireland internationals, it's impressive that he has been in a position to feature in all eight of Munster's Heineken Cup games this season.
Last season's shoulder injury was replaced by knee trouble this campaign, but after spending one and two-month stints on the sidelines this year, he is determined to gain some solid reward for his efforts.
A recall to the Ireland squad for the tour to Argentina is high on Earls' wish list, but a Pro12 winner's medal is even higher. It's time to back up all Munster's progress with medals, he says.
"Yeah, everyone goes for silverware in this league and I think it's been three years since we last won the Magners. It's time for us to push on.
"Obviously getting over Glasgow is another thing and we'll take it one game at a time, but silverware at the end of the season, that's what everyone plays for.
"If we manage to get past Glasgow it'll be a tough final whoever gets through, but it would be great for the island. To have the three top teams over the last couple of years in the top four in the Rabo, with all quarter-finalists or semi-finalists in the Heineken Cup as well is some achievement. It would be a massive game," said the 26-year-old Earls.
Since his return from injury in March, Earls has featured in seven of Munster's eight games, including a try-scoring day to remember against Toulouse at Thomond Park. But with his injury woes behind him, the Moyross man is a little annoyed that they have ended the season with a couple of average displays.
"We could have had a home semi-final if results went our way, but last weekend Ulster really gave it a good go. They were far better than us and they fronted up.
"When I got on I didn't have much other than one or two carries. That was about it, it was one of them days where it's not good to be a winger, the ball was kept in tight. We tried to move it, but the ball didn't come as far as the wings with all the mistakes. I think we had 14 handling errors, which was high.
"Obviously now, we want to go out and put what went wrong last week right. It will be a difficult game, but we want to show what we can do ourselves, play our own game and manage to cut out the unforced errors."
But if ever there was a time to back up the old adage that Munster perform well when the least is expected of them, this weekend is the chance. With four losses from their last seven games, Munster trail the Warriors in the form table. Eight consecutive wins transformed Glasgow from the fringes of the play-offs to pipping Munster to home advantage in the last four and Earls says Munster are well aware of their form.
"Yeah, it's been a massive few weeks in a row for them. It was a great achievement, being mid-table around Christmas and then to finish second; it's not a bad old run.
"And they've played some great rugby too. It's not like a Scottish team to be flashing the ball around, but they're a great team to watch as well.
"The forwards are backing it up and their backs are well able to score out wide, so they're a great team. Credit to Gregor Townsend and his coaches, they are really pulling together the last eight or nine weeks. It will be a tough one for us, but I think we're ready for it.
"We are in with a good shout, but they're calling that place a bit of a fortress at the moment and it will be a tough venue to go and win. But we will take confidence from winning out there earlier in the season."
Having spent two extended periods on the sidelines this season, it is astounding that Earls will win his 18th Munster cap of the campaign tonight if he plays. In reality, he probably wouldn't have played too many more times if he had been fit – Conor Murray has only played 14 times, and Paul O'Connell 16 times this season – but the repeated injury, prehab and rehab takes its toll on the mind more than anything.
"Yeah, it has been really frustrating. I've really been up and down again. It's hard when you think you're going well and you're hitting a bit of form and you have another setback and this year has been hard enough to deal with.
"Every year you're expecting one or two injuries or niggles, but I've been having them solid for the bones of two years, which isn't good.
"I came back around November first of all and I played all of the Heineken Cup games, but I missed all of the November Series with Ireland. After that I was playing catch-up and it was always going to be hard to get selected with the ways the lads were playing.
"That makes these last couple of weeks massive for me. I think the squad is going to be picked after the semi-final, so it's a big match to prove to Joe Schmidt that you're worthy of him picking you.
"There's a lot of fellas playing some awesome rugby at the moment. It will be a tough task, but I'll just keep the head down."
Earls is also keen to send coach Rob Penney off with another win and says he has benefited hugely from his focus on improving the basics of the game. He is well familiar with the new man waiting to take charge, Anthony Foley, but whatever his motivation, the win tonight is the priority for Earls.
"Rob has done a great job, he has brought in some of his own philosophy and Axel will bring a bit of his own philosophy and I'm sure he will use a bit of both. It's another change and it's something we'll deal with.
"But right now, the first test is Glasgow. They beat us over there last year, but we won there before Christmas, so I think it's going to be a fairly even game and it's going to be a battle."