My 2008 Heineken Cup medal does not count, says Keith Earls

As far as Keith Earls is concerned the Heineken Cup winner’s medal he has from 2008 is meaningless.

What will count for the Munster wing is being a genuine contributor to a Champions Cup-winning side.

A decade removed from watching the men in red from the replacements’ bench as they defeated Toulouse in Cardiff to conquer Europe for a second time in three years, the 31-year-old will this weekend resume his mission to create some history of his own and the thought, he admitted, consumes him.

“Yeah, it’s all I think about every day,” Earls said ahead of Sunday’s Pool 2 home clash with Castres.

“I’ve ticked a few boxes the last couple of years with Ireland and more recently two weeks ago with (victory over) New Zealand and we’ll concentrate on every game there is but Europe is the ultimate here as well so we’ll work towards that. The main thing is there are loads of lads who’ve signed up who all have the one goal as well.”

Despite being a member, albeit non-playing, of the last Munster squad to lift European club rugby’s ultimate prize, Earls does not value the medal he received that day.

I think I’m the only one still from ’08 but I wouldn’t consider it as a winner’s medal, I had no interest in keeping it, my old man has it somewhere.

“I never really got on the pitch but it was great to be involved. But in my eyes I’ve no medal, you know?”

Earls’s admission that he constantly thinks about European glory seems at odds with the mindset of the modern professional player, for whom it is all about the process but the Munster and Ireland star makes no apology for his ambition.

“Well, ever since I saw the 2006 team winning, Europe was on my mind and we’re a club with a great tradition in Europe and it’s been a long time.

“Leinster have been leading the way and speaking to the lads when we’re in Irish camp, some of the stories they have and the bond they have from winning stuff, that’s something we’re looking for.”

That collective desire has been growing with each pool game this season as after consecutive semi-final appearances, Munster aim to finally take the giant leap into a Champions Cup final. They are off to a strong start following a draw at Exeter Chiefs and a bonus-point win over Gloucester in October’s rounds one and two has put them top of the pool, two points clear of Sunday’s visitors to Limerick, Castres.

“There’s a great buzz around the squad. There’s a great squad there as well, probably something we didn’t have the last couple of years was strength in depth. There’s a good buzz and you have a couple of new fellas who are hungry and who got the taste of Thomond Park a couple of weeks ago against Gloucester and they’re mad for more.”

Munster may be kicking off at 1pm on Sunday but Earls is confident a near sell-out crowd can turn Thomond Park’s atmosphere white-hot.

“Saturday nights are probably the best nights (for European games) but I think there are 23,000 tickets sold for the game at the weekend and that will probably go up as well. I don’t mind a Sunday game or an early kick-off, the atmosphere is going to be brilliant either way.

“It’s one versus two in the pool and it’s a huge game, and I’ve no doubt our supporters will be out in as huge numbers as ever.”

With a return leg in Castres six days later, Earls accepts there will be pressure to take care of business at home first as the pool phase enters this critical juncture.

There is the added pressure but we take every game and know there’s going to be pressure. The PRO14’s the same, every point is vital and these two games you’re going to find out where you are at Christmas time, whether you’re going to be competing to get out of the group or if the European season is over, even with two games left to go.

“There is massive pressure the next two weeks but it’s great to have them in Thomond Park first because Castres is an awful tough place to go.

“If we can get a result it might take some bit of pressure off us going over there next week. They’re a passionate team. They don’t have superstars. You get the feel that it’s all about the community with them.

“They won the Top14 last year and it’s been a while since they’ve been in the knockout stages or pushing for Europe. It’s going to be a massive challenge for us, end of story, no matter what team they send over.”

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