McGahan puts Earls and Mafi centre stage

MUNSTER’S Keith Earls will link up yet again with Lifeimi Mafi for tonight’s crucial Magners League fixture at the Firhill Stadium in Glasgow (7.45, Setanta Ireland).

In the continued absence of the injured Rua Tipoki, who hopes to be fit by next weekend, Earls has an opportunity to renew his midfield partnership with Mafi.

That affords Denis Hurley a further chance to impress Munster coach, Tony McGahan while Peter Stringer returns against a Glasgow side desperate to continue a hugely successful home record against Irish teams.

Captained by Mick O’Driscoll, Munster will be without several front-liners with the bulk of Ireland’s Grand Slam heroes being rested prior to next week’s eagerly-awaited clash with Leinster at Thomond Park.

On the Glasgow side, the highly-rated flanker James Eddie and winger Lome Fa’atau will return to a team seeking to embellish an unbeaten home record against the Irish since 2006.

Munster acknowledge it is going to be a huge task, given the strength of a Glasgow side that includes brothers Thom and Max Evans in a high-profile back division.

Eddie is making only his fourth appearance of the season having been forced out in the early part due to a shoulder injury and latterly due to knee ligament damage. But of the three games he has started this year, two were momentous victories for the Warriors.

The 23-year-old marked his comeback from shoulder surgery in the New Year clash against city rivals Edinburgh in the David Lloyd 1872 Cup when the Warriors turned the previous week’s 39-6 defeat into a gutsy 25-20 victory at Firhill.

That was followed up with a historic 26-33 win in France against one of the most decorated sides in Europe — Toulouse — when a scrum collapsed on his knee.

On his return, Eddie said: “I’ve really enjoyed training this week,” he said. “There’s a real buzz around the squad now that everyone’s back together after the Six Nations.

“Personally I was really happy to re-sign on Monday and aim to ensure I continue to progress in Glasgow colours. I’m itching to get back out on the pitch at Firhill and there aren’t many better opportunities than when the European champions come to town.”

Meanwhile, Samoan international flyer Fa’atau made a return to full training this week having recovered sufficiently from a shin bone injury which has ruled him out of front-line action for three and a half months.

He replaces Hefin O’Hare — who is on Scotland 7s duty at the IRB Sevens World Series event in Hong Kong — on the right wing.

Warriors head coach, Sean Lineen, said: “There’s no better game to focus the mind than facing the current Magners League leaders and the European champions at home.

“It’s a massive opportunity to get back to winning ways at home and the supporters will play a huge part in helping them achieve that.”

Munster team manager Shaun Payne is well aware of what Lineen’s team have in store. “We haven’t exactly set the world alight up there in the past,” he said.

“This team they have named looks very strong; in any event, we have struggled against them in the past. They put it up to us already this season at Thomond Park and they will be stronger now with the Evans brothers back.

“I’d have confidence in the team we have named but it is a team based on necessity; obviously we’re without the guys who played almost all of the Six Nations and we have really such a busy schedule coming up that we have to be economical. There’s a possibility, I stress possibility, that we will have nine games in a row to the end of the season and we have to take that into account.

“Given the importance of this fixture, we would absolutely love to select from everyone in the squad, but that would not have been a prudent thing to do. It’s six of one, half a dozen of another; we’re trying to do what’s right for the players, all of the players.”

A week before a battle with old rivals Leinster, the current holders of the title, Payne is hoping Munster can emerge victorious from tonight’s match.

Payne said: “It would be a good place to get out of with a victory; it’s been quite obvious from the start of the season that we have targeted the Magners League, we’re having a real crack off it and we want to stay top going into next week’s game and beyond.”

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