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'They’ve been brilliant' - Earls and Carbery returns huge for Munster

Johann van Graan believes ‘big players will perform in the big games.’

AS MUNSTER LOOK towards Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final against Leinster at the RDS, they couldn’t have been given a bigger boost than the returns to full training of Joey Carbery and Keith Earls.

When this pair were ruled out for the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens, Munster’s already tough task became considerably more difficult.

Joey Carbery Carbery at Munster training yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The two key creative players in Johann van Graan’s team, Earls and Carbery will likely be central if Munster are to beat their inter-provincial rivals in Dublin and advance into the Pro14 final in Glasgow a week later.

Carbery, all going well this week, will be back in Munster’s 10 shirt at the venue where he played 15 for Leinster this time last year. 

“There’s a big possibility that he will play,” said van Graan of Carbery, while also looking forward to Earls’ return.

“As I said after the Treviso game, they’re pretty important players to ourselves and if they’re 100% ready I’ll pick both of them.

“Some of the things from both of them in training are pretty special and we’ll make our decisions later in the week.

“Earlsy’s been out for a long time now but I believe your big players will perform in the big games and if both of them are ready I’m going to back both of them.”

Carbery has only played 35 minutes of rugby since Ireland’s Six Nations win over Scotland all the way back on 9 February, suffering a recurrence of his hamstring injury as Munster beat Edinburgh in the Champions Cup quarter-finals on 30 March.

Earls hasn’t been on the pitch since that same Edinburgh clash, having withdrawn from a Pro14 clash with Cardiff Blues on 5 April after sustaining a thigh injury during the warm-up.

Having both players back this weekend would allow van Graan’s Munster to offer far more in attack against Leinster.

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Keith Earls Earls is set for his return against Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“They’ve been brilliant in our season,” said van Graan of Earls and Carbery. “I thought two of our best runs of games were Leinster at home, Connacht away, Gloucester away and Exeter at home when we had a pretty settled team.”

Van Graan did also praise Tyler Bleyendaal, JJ Hanrahan, Darren Sweetnam, Shane Daly and Calvin Nash for playing well when given opportunities in Carbery and Earls’ absences in recent times.

The Munster boss confirmed that loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman’s season is over due to a hamstring injury, while hooker Rhys Marshall is “50/50″ for the weekend as he continues to recover from a calf injury.

Van Graan welcomed the returns of Tommy O’Donnell and Fineen Wycherley to training last week and happily noted that “we’ve got a pretty healthy squad to look forward to on the weekend.”

The Munster head coach rejected any suggestion that the province have had a hangover from their European semi-final defeat to Saracens, and stressed that they are desperate to claim the Pro14 title this season.

“From Munster Rugby’s point of view, we want to win a trophy and in order to win a trophy, we have to beat Leinster in the RDS.

“It’s hugely important for us. We can’t win in Europe but we can win in the Pro14. If we want to even talk about winning the Pro14, we’ve got to get past Leinster into the final.

“European rugby is massive to this club with the history and what people have put into it. This group, we spoke in here over the last two weeks and we want to take the next step and get past that in the Pro14 as well.

“That’s the only thing that’s still in our hands for this season. So in terms of the playing group, the management and the people involved in Munster Rugby, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got this weekend.”

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Murray Kinsella

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