Munster are holding out hope that Lions winger Keith Earls will be available for their final Champions Cup pool games in the new year, putting him in line for a late run into Ireland’s Six Nations reckoning.
As the province prepare to welcome back their international contingent this week in the hope some of the Ireland squad who completed a victorious autumn campaign will be available to face Ulster at Thomond Park in the Guinness Pro12 on Friday night, assistant coach Ian Costello said Earls could be back in the reckoning for the European rounds five and six games in January at Saracens and then home to Sale Sharks.
Earls, 27 last month, underwent surgery on his right knee on September 30. Earls is yet to play in coach Joe Schmidt’s tenure, which began in May 2013. The last of his 39 caps came in what would be Declan Kidney’s final game, a Six Nations defeat in Italy in which he dislocated his shoulder. Injuries have coincided with every Test window since but with his rehabilitation going well Costello believes a return to training in early January gives him a chance of making his seasonal debut later in the month and he will remain in Munster’s European squad.
“He’s going really well,” Costello said of Earls’ rehab work. “Six Nations, that’s Ireland’s business. We’re not sure to be honest with you.”
“I think it was James Coughlan and Tommy O’Donnell, the last two years, have come back a little bit ahead of schedule so from our point of view we’ll keep Keith, a quality player like that, as an option for rounds five and six. If it works out, great.”
Things are not so great in Ulster where fly-half Paddy Jackson was yesterday ruled out of Friday’s clash in Limerick and for up to six weeks. Jackson suffered an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder in Friday night’s home win over Ospreys.
Munster will learn today which of their Ireland players will be available as Anthony Foley’s side go for a seventh win in a row but Costello suggested the returnees were unlikely to include those who started the victory over Australia last Saturday.
“We’ve spoken about the need to train with us. So if they weren’t available to train with us Wednesday I think it would be difficult for us to keep the momentum going... We’d be hopeful of getting a few of them back and then it’s up to us as to how we use them at the weekend.”
Conor Murray, who started against the Wallabies, and Andrew Conway, who sustained a concussion in Friday’s win at the Dragons, will be required to complete the Head Injury Assessment process while Munster’s only other short-term injury concern is hooker Eubesio Guinazu, a late withdrawal on Friday with a tight hamstring.
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