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'He's still got it, the Moyross Train!' - Earls the difference for Munster

Johann van Graan’s side will need to improve ahead of their semi-final clash with Saracens.

Murray Kinsella reports from Edinburgh

WITH A TRY in each half, Keith Earls proved to be the difference between Munster and Edinburgh yesterday in Murrayfield as Johann van Graan’s side advanced into the Champions Cup semi-finals in thrilling fashion.

Keith Earls celebrates his second try with Peter O'Mahony and Rory Scannell Munster celebrate Earls' second try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The might of Saracens awaits in that final-four tie in Coventry in three weekends’ time but for now, Munster can revel in reaching this stage of the European competition for the 14th time.

31-year-old Earls’ clinical finishing ability is one of the prime reasons the southern province march on, as he took his two chances in ruthless fashion.

“He’s still got it, the Moyross train!” joked Chris Farrell, who provided the assist for Earls’ second score in the 71st minute.

That winning try was a wonderful move from Munster, their most incisive attacking thrust of the game as Conor Murray arced right off a ruck and offloaded to Rory Scannell, who screened a pass behind Tyler Bleyendaal to Farrell, who pulled off an impressive catch-pass to free Earls for a sharp finish.

“He’s an outstanding player,” said Farrell. “We’re not doing him justice by not getting him into the game earlier and not getting him those one-on-ones that he deserves.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be getting him a bit more space because it will benefit us in the long run. He’s a special player and he’s always going to get us a few little moments where we look back on them as being important.”

Earls’ first try came in the 19th minute as Munster took advantage of their opening visit to the Edinburgh 22 to the tune of seven points.

Edinburgh scrum-half Henry Pyrgos slapped the ball out of Murray’s hands as the Munster halfback attempted to play it away from the base of a five-metre scrum, resulting in a penalty for the Irish side.

The ball bobbled loose and, as Murray wrestled Pyrgos to the ground in response, Earls reacted sharpest to gather it in, quick-tap and step to the left of Edinburgh number eight Bill Mata as he attempted to rescue the situation.

Conor Murray celebrates after the game Conor Murray celebrates Munster's win. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

With Earls also contributing some important tackles and decisions in defence, as well as claiming a handful of high balls that came his way, it was another influential performance from a key man in this team.

“Your experienced players, your world-class players, need to step up on the big days and I thought Keith was excellent today, as was Conor, Pete [O'Mahony] and CJ [Stander],” said Munster head coach Johann van Graan.

“I thought Chris Farrell had an excellent game, someone like Niall Scannell that doesn’t get a lot of praise for the set-piece, that was a real battle. It was a real gritty performance from our side until the last play.”

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There certainly was grit in Munster’s display but there was also some frustration afterwards, despite having secured a semi-final.

While van Graan and his team will appreciate the things they did well, they know better than anyone that vast improvement will be required if they are to beat Saracens.

“There were stages where we wanted to shift it a channel wider and that definitely worked a couple of times but we didn’t get it enough because we didn’t look after the ball and that’s disappointing,” said Farrell of Munster’s use of possession.

“But on the other side of the ball, I thought our defence was outstanding at times. We really fronted up big time in the last five minutes and even in the first 20 minutes when they had us under the cosh.

“We were struggling big time and we managed to get out of there without points at stages we thought we were definitely going to concede.”

CJ Stander celebrates with Niall O'Donovan after the game Munster team manager Niall O'Donovan with CJ Stander. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The closing minutes of the game were tense for Munster fans as their team defended for their lives, Arno Botha stripping Mata at one stage, Billy Holland picking off a lineout, everyone tackling desperately and Botha finishing it by forcing a knock-on from Jamie Ritchie.

“It’s just survival,” said Farrell. “You’re scrambling to survive. You’re absolutely bolloxed but survival is the key and trying to keep our width because we know they like to play deep and get the ball to their danger players.”

So often in this game, it appeared that Munster were heading for defeat but, as they have done regularly in the past, they found a way to notch another European victory.

Farrell, who joined from Top 14 side Grenoble in 2017, has tapped into that Munster history happily.

“This team is really, really resilient,” said the centre. “We came back against Zebre last weekend and that’s the kind of resilience that is bred into this team over years and years. You can just feel it.

“Coming from France and a team that struggled, we certainly didn’t have a resilient team. When backs were against the wall in France, we lay down.

“That’s something that stands out massively here – the boys have got so much experience and that history of being in these massive games and being calm under pressure.”

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Murray Kinsella

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