Saturday 24 August 2019

Murrayfield saviour Earls wants Munster to drive on in bid to seal play-off spot

Munster's Keith Earls. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster's Keith Earls. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Declan Rooney

Munster winger Keith Earls has called on his team-mates to kick on from their Champions Cup triumph over Edinburgh and finish their season with a bang.

Earls (31) bagged the two crucial tries for his side as they edged past the tough Scots, and the Limerick native wants Munster to maintain their winning form against Cardiff in Cork on Friday.

Both teams remain in the hunt for the play-off positions in Conference A. Victory for Munster will guarantee them a spot in the play-offs, but they are still three points behind leaders Glasgow in the race for an automatic home semi-final. Earls says his side need to be clued in for this challenge.

"We've turned the page on Edinburgh now and we're coming up against a Cardiff side who have a lot to fight for and a side who have beaten us in Cork," said Earls, who took his Munster try tally to 54.

"They're level on points with Connacht and they're looking for a quarter-final and also we're trying to put pressure on Glasgow as well. That's the beauty of rugby, you push on to another big game.

"They'll have their Grand Slam winners coming back with a serious amount of confidence as well and have personnel like Nick Williams who we know quite well. They have two boys in the centre as well who caused us to struggle a couple of months ago, so we're going to have to bring our 'A' game."

Last weekend's win in Murrayfield means Munster will face Saracens in the Champions Cup semi-final for the second time in three seasons. The Premiership outfit were 26-10 winners at the Aviva Stadium that day, but the Ireland winger doesn't want to let his mind drift from the challenge of the Blues this weekend.

"No, we can't (lose focus). Saracens is a couple of weeks away and we're still fighting for a semi-final and quarter final in the league. (We're) two completely different teams and we'll enter as underdogs. We will have to learn from our mistakes from a couple of years ago. We know it's going to be a massive challenge.

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"I think they are the number one seeded team but we'll give it a good belt anyway. But we have to think about the next couple of weeks first before we think about Saracens."

Only for Earls's quick thinking and nose for the try-line in Murrayfield, Munster would be reflecting on defeat this week and trying to pick up the pieces ahead of the PRO14 run-in. His quick-tap penalty in the first-half put them into the lead, while his brilliant second nine minutes from time clinched the win.

Weird

"It's weird when you get these feelings when you know you are not going to lose. I didn't think we were going to lose at the weekend. Look, both sides were putting pressure on and both sides were cracking. It was a silly mistake by one of their players that turned the game for us and it was that bit of luck we got."

Meanwhile, Connacht's play-off drive in the PRO14 has been handed a significant boost with the return of out-half Jack Carty to training following an arm injury in time for this weekend's clash away to Zebre.

The in-form out-half forced his way into the Ireland Six Nations squad on the back of a series of excellent displays for Connacht but was forced off during last weekend's Challenge Cup loss to Sale Sharks.

But Carty is in line to start in Parma on Saturday, and with three games remaining in the PRO14 Connacht will hope to maintain their third place position, which will guarantee them a play-off position.

"Jack is fine and trained fully today," said backs' coach Nigel Carolan. "It was like a dead leg, just with a bicep. His power was down and we didn't want him to take another bang and risk him for this weekend. He is good to go for the weekend."

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