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Earls Returns As Munster’s Only Change

Earls Returns As Munster’s Only Change

Munster head coach Rob Penney has made one change to the team that overcame Harlequins recently, bringing the fit-again Keith Earls onto the right wing for the benched Denis Hurley.

Keith Earls has proven his fitness, coming through this week’s training regime after being sidelined since damaging his AC joint in Ireland’s final RBS 6 Nations game against Italy.

There are two changes to the Munster bench with John Ryan coming in for the injured Stephen Archer (wrist), while knee injury victim Donncha O’Callaghan makes way for Billy Holland.

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It will be Earls’ first provincial outing since the pool victory at home to Racing Metro 92 in January. He injured himself in the Italy match in Rome five weeks ago.

As is normal with Heineken Cup away match weekends, extra cover will travel with the Munster squad in the form of Johne Murphy and David O’Callaghan.

This weekend’s last-four encounter will see Ronan O’Gara break yet another European record. It will be the Munster out-half’s 10th Heineken Cup semi-final appearance.

The tournament’s record points scorer (1360 points) and most-capped player (109 appearances) is hoping to be just as influential at Stade de la Mosson on Saturday evening (kick-off 6pm local time/5pm Irish time) as he was in the quarter-final win over Harlequins.

Speaking ahead of the size of the task facing Munster, head coach Rob Penney said: “We were talking about it the other day, if that Clermont side was to play France they would beat them, we thought, just based on the personnel.

“So we are basically playing an international team and one of highest calibre. One that would challenge at the top echelon of international footie.

“I’m brand new here (coaching in Europe). I think we’d all look at it right now and say that the toughest job of all is trying to play a French team in France of the calibre of Clermont in the form they are in. It will be massively challenging.”

The New Zealander added: “The thing about Clermont is what they do from unstructured play where you don’t have the opportunity to manufacture and build.

“They have so much firepower. If they get ball that is not controlled they can just turn up the heat really, really quickly on you and you can be left floundering.

“We won’t do it with individuals. If we get close to them it won’t be because we have had a superstar performance from one person, it will be because collectively we have operated at an efficiency level and an intensity level we have not operated with this year.”

MUNSTER (v Clermont Auvergne): Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian du Preez, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Cathal Sheridan, Ian Keatley, Denis Hurley.