'Keith Earls is probably out for a long time' - Munster coach delivers bad injury news
Munster's quest for silverware has been rocked with the loss of Tyler Bleyendaal and Duncan Williams for the rest of the season, while Keith Earls is expected to face a lengthy lay-off due to a knee ligament injury.
Bleyendaal was forced to have surgery after a recurrence of his neck injury, while a training ground accident saw Williams sustain a fractured cheekbone and eye socket, which will sideline him until the summer. As revealed in yesterday's Irish Independent, Earls picked up a knee injury during Ireland's Grand Slam-clinching win over England and coach Johann van Graan admitted he will be out for a lengthy period, which puts him as a huge doubt to face Toulon in the Champions Cup.
Shorter-term concerns surround Simon Zebo (hamstring), Rory Scannell (shoulder), Andrew Conway (knee) and Alex Wootton (hip), while Chris Farrell, Chris Cloete and Jaco Taute remain long-term absentees.
Neck and quad injuries have restricted Bleyendaal to just 39 appearances in three seasons, but Van Graan firmly sees him as a key figure for Munster - although he expects the New Zealander to be out for the next four months.
Munster could do with the Ireland squad members returning immediately, but instead Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray and CJ Stander will have a week off.
Ian Keatley is expected to be available for Saturday's clash with Scarlets in Thomond Park, but Van Graan is hoping that his gut instinct is not proven correct regarding Earls' injury.
"Keith Earls is probably out for a long time, we are still waiting for the feedback on him," he said. "I spoke to him personally. He was in a lot of pain. If you just looked at the clip, he seems to be in a bit of trouble and knowing Earlsie he is quite a tough man.
"He has been through a lot and just watching the footage if you look at him celebrating in the circle afterwards he jumped on one leg. I fear he is going to be out for quite a long time."