Saturday 16 December 2017

Keith Earls returns for Munster as province retire number 8 jersey in tribute to Anthony Foley

Munster's Keith Earls. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster's Keith Earls. Photo: Sportsfile Newsdesk Newsdesk

Ireland international Keith Earls returns to the Munster XV for what promises to be an emotional afternoon at Thomond Park following the sudden death of head coach Anthony Foley.

Earls return is the only change to the XV that was due to start against Racing 92 last weekend. The game was postponed following Foley's tragic passing.

Tyler Bleyendaal and Darren Sweetnam will make their European debuts while academy prop Brian Scott could also do so after being named on the bench.

Rassie Erasmus has set the tone for an emotional day at Thomond Park as Munster prepare to tackle European Champions Cup opponents Glasgow.

The Munster rugby family will continue remembering the 42-year-old on Saturday, including through a commemorative match programme and a minute's silence, during which what has been described as "a special tribute" from supporters in Thomond Park's West Stand will take place.

As a mark of respect to Foley, Munster said the number eight jersey will be retired for the Glasgow game.

Foley made the position his own during a long and successful Munster career highlighted by him captaining them to European Cup final glory in 2006.

Munster announced that Ireland international CJ Stander, who has been selected in the number eight position against Glasgow, would wear number 24.

Young players from Foley's former club Shannon RFC, meanwhile, and students representing his school St Munchin's will form a guard of honour as the teams run out.

"The great man touched so many hearts," Munster rugby director Erasmus said.

"One's life is greater than any sport or sporting occasion. However, Thomond Park held a special place in Axel's (Foley's) heart, and as difficult as it will be to play the next game - no matter the time, opposition and venue - we have an opportunity to play there this Saturday.

"That is something that is hugely important to all of us and cannot be easily dismissed.

"Playing in Thomond Park further ties us to his memory, and will be a chance for all, including our supporters and the community, to feel that connection and closeness to him at this time."

A minute's silence or applause for Foley will take place at all European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup fixtures this week.

Munster also confirmed that scrumhalf Tomás O'Leary has joined Top 14 side Montpellier  on a four month loan agreement.

Munster XV: (15-9) Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; (1-8) Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O'Mahony - capt., Tommy O'Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: (16-23) Duncan Casey, Brian Scott, Stephen Archer, Robin Copeland, Jack O'Donoghue, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Ronan O'Mahony.

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