Earls in line to make timely return to Munster fray

KEITH EARLS looks set to make a timely return for Munster in this Saturday’s Heineken Cup showdown with London Irish at the Madjeski Stadium. With fellow backs Felix Jones and Ian Dowling on the long-term injury list and Lifeimi Mafi suspended, the return of Earls is good news for Munster coach Tony McGahan, who named the versatile Irish international in his extended squad yesterday.

Prop Tony Buckley has recovered from the virus that saw him miss last Saturday’s 13-9 defeat to Leinster, while scrum-half Duncan Williams has also been added to the panel. McGahan is set to name his starting side on Friday.

Earls has been plagued by a persistent groin injury for the past six months, but took a full part in training yesterday morning.

Munster assistant coach Mick Galwey indicated that a lack of game-time may prevent him from making a full contribution against the Exiles, but said he hoped Earls may have 60 minutes in him. “He’s come through the training session today which is very encouraging,” explained Galwey.

“Hopefully over the next 24 hours there’ll be no reaction to it, but that was his first full hard session. It’s great to have him back, but the other concern is his match-time, he hasn’t played for a long time now.”

Galwey also stressed that a hand injury suffered by scrum-half Tomás O’Leary should not prevent him from taking part, though the Cork man did sit out yesterday’s session.

“It’s nothing too serious, he had a bit of a knock, that’s why Duncan Williams was added to the squad,” said Galwey.

“The Leinster game was a physical one for everyone, and there were a lot of sore bodies this week, but you have to get back into it. We’ve known since pre-season that this stage (of the season) was going to be very tough, but at least the cobwebs are out of the system.”

Munster captain Denis Leamy, who will wear the armband in the Heineken Cup for the first time as he continues to deputise for injured regular skipper Paul O’Connell, believes the attritional nature of the Leinster clash will serve as ideal preparation for the visit to London Irish.

“I think it was a great exercise to play against Leinster, that was the most physical and intense game I’ve played since I’ve come back,” he explained.

“The hits were ferocious and it was a great tempo, and that’s ideal for this weekend, a tough European Cup fixture.”

MUNSTER squad (v London Irish): W Du Preez, M Horan, M Sherry, D Varley, J Hayes, Darragh Hurley, T Buckley, B Holland, D Ryan, D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll, A Quinlan, D Wallace, N Ronan, D Leamy, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan, T O’Leary, D Williams, P Stringer, R O’Gara, S Deasy, P Warwick, D Barnes, K Earls, L Mafi, J Murphy, S Tuitupou, D Howlett, D Hurley.

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