Leinster v Munster
Saturday: Aviva Stadium, 6.30pm
The news Anthony Foley was dreading for weeks yesterday finally landed in his in-tray.
Confirmation that Keith Earls required surgery on his knee problem and would be out of action for three to four months means that Foley will go into a whole series of vital fixtures — starting with the visit to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday — missing a player capable of injecting pace and penetration into a back division that has sadly lacked those key ingredients.
Earls underwent the operation in London yesterday on a damaged patellar tendon in his right knee and will be sidelined for three to four months, the same recuperation period facing second-row Donnacha Ryan, whose toe injury goes under the knife today. Given the importance of both Earls and Ryan to Munster, Foley’s reaction to the news was commendably philosophical.
“We were eyeing Keith up for this weekend when he went down with the knee injury pre-season,” he said. “It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, all of the above, but it’s reality. Keith played nine games for us last season, in the last two years, he has played 20 out of 60 games, so he hasn’t been available because this injury has been going on for two years, on and off.
“What we hope is to rectify the problem and get a run of games for the lad. I think he deserves that, Irish rugby supporters deserve to go into a ground and see Keith Earls (pictured) play because he’s a very exciting open field runner but unfortunately the last two seasons, that’s been very sporadic.
“Donnacha Ryan’s figures are very similar to Keith’s. I think he’s played 21 out of 61 games and only 11 last season, out of 31. He’s a robust international lock forward and would be missed by any team. But we knew these injuries were coming for a while and Peter O’Mahony and Damien Varley trained with us today. The first phone call I’ll make in the morning is to see how they are because you just want to make sure there is no reaction.”
A man with Anthony Foley’s background would never make light of the importance of a Munster-Leinster derby and he is not inclined to do so in looking ahead to Saturday’s clash at the Aviva.
“A lot of fellas are playing against their friends, their team-mates, above all it’s a local derby, an interpro and you saw in the Leinster-Connacht game, it can be a feisty affair and I expect the same on Saturday,” said Foley.
“We need to concentrate on the game. I don’t think beating our chest and roaring and shouting will do us any favours. We have a process of how we want to play the game. We want to execute that with a degree of accuracy, to put on the pressure and whoever can win those physical battles at the crucial moments will probably come out the winners.”
Foley and all connected for their side know full well that another defeat in the capital coming on the back of some poor recent performances will further disappoint the many Munster supporters seriously worried about where this team is headed.
“We are fully conscious that when the jersey goes on that we represent a lot of people,” he accepted. “We want to go out and make sure we do justice to the jersey. There’s a good feeling at the moment, even after a hard to take result at the weekend.
“It’s interesting to look at the table, Leinster are one point ahead of us, out next opponents after that are Scarlets who are one below us, so it’s a big fortnight coming up.”
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