Champions Cup semi-final
Tomorrow: Aviva Stadium, 3.15pm
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
TV: BT Sport 3
Bet: Munster 6/4 Saracens 8/15 Draw 25/1
“An awful lot,” the Munster wing said, “an awful lot.”
The north London club, coached by Ulsterman Mark McCall, are not the champions of England and Europe for nothing, nor have they reached the last four of the Heineken/Champions Cup for the fifth season in succession by accident.
Which is why Munster, regardless of home-country advantage at Aviva Stadium tomorrow afternoon, face the ultimate challenge in trying to first stop them playing to their potential and then putting points on the board themselves.
“They can play whatever way they want, with the talent they have in their squad,” Earls continued of the tournament favourites.
“They’re big men, they’re physical. They can play ball. Some of their forwards could play out-half if they wanted to; the speed and the talent they have out the backs, they’re equipped with world-class talents throughout their squad.
"It’s definitely going to be the hardest challenge of the year. And definitely a game we have to have our best performance in if we want to beat them.”
Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has watched with interest Saracens’ evolution over recent years from an obdurate team playing the percentages into a more rounded outfit, happy to mix up their gameplan and bring plenty of cutting edge and creativity to their attacking play.
“I think they started out as a team who suffocated and strangled teams out of life and hope and belief during matches,” Erasmus said.
“Now they’ve developed into a team that does that but when they’re on attack, they have these almost rugby-league mini moves which seem to come off, then matching that with a great kicking game and great finishers.
“They are one of the most complete teams, I’m talking southern hemisphere with Super Rugby, the Crusaders, those kinds of teams, the Brumbies at their best.
“They are right up there and I think the way they’ve contracted and balanced their squad with foreign players and building momentum, squad size, that’s the team everybody aspires to be like at this stage.”
To get this far in the Champions Cup, Saracens had to get past Munster’s Pro12 and European pool rivals Glasgow Warriors on home soil at Allianz Park three weeks ago and they did so with aplomb, dispatching Gregor Townsend’s Scottish hopefuls 38-13 in a one-sided affair.
It gave Townsend, whose Warriors have played Munster four times this season and lost on each occasion, an ideal perspective to assess what the Irish province are about to face in Dublin.
“They are facing a very confident team. Saracens had their full team out straight after the Six Nations against Bath and won pretty comfortably.
“They beat us pretty comfortably and then beat Harlequins comfortably.
“They are confident with all aspects of their game. They will see coming over to Ireland as a challenge that they are ready for.
“It is going to be a great game. Munster played really well in the Champions Cup, played really well all season. A lot of the things Munster do really well, so do Saracens. Defensively these are the two best defensive teams in Europe so something has got to give there.”
Yet no team is without weak points and Townsend believes Munster and Erasmus can expose them this weekend, but only if they are playing at their absolute best.
“(Saracens) tend to play once they get ahead of a team, but their game is based on pressure. It’s making sure they don’t make mistakes in their own half. Something they have got is a brilliant kicking scrum-half (Richard Wigglesworth), like Munster. It’s a good match-up.
“You will see very passionate teams, the clash of Irish rugby and Pro12 rugby against the English Premiership will be very interesting because the breakdown is probably more dynamic in our league than it is in England. But it will be very close to call.
“Saracens, if they do get on the front foot, with the size of players they have, can be a very dangerous attacking team. But if you can match that, then it can become an arm-wrestle.”