In Contention

Earls return to training could give Munster 'a massive boost' for Racing tie

The 30-year-old win will return to training with Munster tomorrow.

MUNSTER ARE HOPEFUL that experienced wing Keith Earls will be passed fit to face Racing 92 in Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final in Bordeaux.

The Ireland international was expected to miss the European clash, having been absent for the quarter-final win over Toulon after injuring his knee in Ireland’s Grand Slam-securing win over England last month.

Keith Earls scores a try 21/1/2018 Earls scoring a try against Castres in the pool stages. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

However, Earls is set to return to the training pitch earlier than expected and looks likely to be in contention to feature against Racing.

“Earlsy will be back on the field tomorrow and we want to see how he’s recovered,” said Munster head coach Johann van Graan at the University of Limerick today.

While Darren Sweetnam and Alex Wootton provide strong options for Munster out wide in the event that Earls cannot prove his fitness, van Graan is in little doubt of the possible benefits of the 30-year-old making a comeback.

“[It would be] a massive boost,” said van Graan of the prospect. “He brings such experience and he’s been on fire any time he’s been on the field. He’s looking forward to the week and, hopefully, he can get through training.”

Back row Jack O’Donoghue is an injury worry for Munster ahead of the trip to France, having stepped up to the plate so impressively in the absence of Chris Cloete and Tommy O’Donnell against Toulon.

Both of those opensides remain sidelined and while Robin Copeland has been in excellent form in the back row, van Graan is hopeful O’Donoghue can overcome his ankle issue.

“Jack will also be on the field later in the week, so we’ll take it day by day and give guys as much time as we can to make the right decisions and to pick the best team we can for Sunday,” said van Graan.

James Cronin’s shoulder is a further concern for Munster, while scrum-half James Hart will have to come through the return-to-play protocols after a head injury against the Cheetahs.

While Munster warmed up for the semi-final with a morale-boosting and exciting victory against the Cheetahs in South Africa last weekend, Racing rested the majority of their key players in a Top 14 defeat to Toulouse.

The semi-finalists have already met twice this season in the Champions Cup pool stages, with Munster winning in Thomond Park before a narrow defeat to Racing in Paris on a 34-30 scoreline.

“It’s a semi-final, I don’t think anything that happened before has any bearing on this game,” said van Graan. “You need to be at your best to win a semi-final, to absorb pressure and take your opportunities.

“A semi-final is a cruel game, you’re so close to the final, so our focus is all on ourselves.

“Racing are a world-class team, just look at their results, so it’s a massive assignment for us to go France and to try to beat Racing. We’re looking forward to it.”

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