Munster assistant coach Ian Costello yesterday highlighted the importance of keeping Keith Earls and others in the squad to allow the province remain competitive in Europe.
As speculation continued about a possible move to Saracens by Irish and Lions international Earls, Costello said the homegrown player was one of at least three personnel vital to help rebuild the team following the departure of Paul O’Connell and the forced retirement of Felix Jones.
Earls is the latest Munster player to hit the news following rumours Simon Zebo is being headhunted by more than one club, including former European champions Toulouse.
Asked about Zebo and Conor Murray, high profile names whose contracts are also up at the end of the season, a hopeful Costello noted: “Yeah, absolutely.
“Look, everyone makes their own decisions separately, they have to look at their own situation and the feedback we have got is they (negotiations with the IRFU) were progressing nicely.
“We review these things on a weekly basis because they’re obviously important to our plans going forward.
“This (Earls speculation) has come as a surprise but we want to keep all three (mentioned) of those, they are top international world class players and if we are to be successful going forward then (losing them) it would be a massive dent to our ambitions.”
Costello, defence and kicking coach, was in the dark regarding Earls’ intent: “From our point of view, we were in a coaches meeting this morning when the speculation started, so we hope it is a rumour, we hope it is speculation.
“His negotiations are with the IRFU, these are ongoing, Keith is a player we want here, he’s a quality player, quality person, (but) all his dealings are with the IRFU and we hope that the business gets done positively from our point of view over the next 24 hours.”
Munster will be without their top players for Saturday’s Pro12 clash away to Zebre, but Costello is pleased with the outcome of the last two European outings, including a win over Treviso last week.
After a bad run, he hopes Munster have turned a corner.
“On a positive note, where we were struggling we scored eight tries (the last couple of weeks), that’s important, it’s a mindset, a feel good, things stick, you get in a habit and it gets quite infectious.
“So we focus in on the positives, on where previously we were talking about opportunities not being finished, the last couple of weeks opportunities were being created and finished, that has been a significant progression.”
Munster will still be without BJ Botha, Tyler Bleyandaal and Stephen Archer, all of whom are recovering from injury but not ready for action, but Andrew Conway and Dave O’Callaghan could well be back for the Italian trip and Costello says O’Callaghan’s availability would be a major boost for Munster.
“Before his injury (adductor), he was having a fantastic season.
“He was one of the unsung heroes.
“He’s a quality back-row, for me he’s an international standard back-row and he got injured at a very unfortunate time so for him to come back in this weekend would be a boost; it also looks like Andy will be back as well after a couple of weeks off (after being tackled in the air against Stade Francais in Paris).
Meanwhile, injured skipper Peter O’Mahony is taking on increasing responsibility off the field as he continues his rehab following a knee operation and he could be back playing before the end of the season according to Costello: “Hopefully he will be back in time for the play-off in the Pro12!”
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