European dreams always at the top of Earls’ agenda

It’s 10 years since Keith Earls made his debut in the Heineken Champions Cup and the competition is still of the utmost importance to him.

Earls was 21 when Munster welcomed French side Montauban to Thomond Park on October 10, 2008 and all these years later the buzz he feels for a European tie like Saturday’s game against Exeter Chiefs is as big as ever.

“It’s huge. is Europe. That’s what we enjoy and they are the games that we remember from when we were younger. Heading over to an English Premiership side is huge. It’s exciting because you know that you have to be at your best.

“The pressure is huge and in a weird way that’s what we enjoy is playing under that pressure. At this stage, we can’t afford any mistakes. We just have to look after ourselves and that’s all that we can do. If we try our best and we lose, we will still be able to look at ourselves in the mirror.”

Munster go into this crucial game with the Chiefs having lost all three games that they have played away from home this season. However, Munster played well in defeat to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium last time out and Earls is hoping that they can put in a similar performance at Sandy Park.

“It’s the best that we have played in a long time,” admitted Earls. “The game against Ulster was great and to back it up against the European champions, albeit with a few decisions not going our way, we put in a good account of ourselves.

Earls also commented on the decision that saw him yellow carded in that game. He said: “It’s a split second decision but he (James Lowe) is a big enough lad. I didn’t think he would go down that easy. If you go by the letter of the law, yeah it probably is a yellow card but a penalty try? I don’t think so but that’s the decision that the referee made.”

European Rugby Champions Cup Round 5, U Arena, Paris, France 14/1/2018 Racing 92 vs Munster Munster’s Keith Earls scores a try despite the efforts of Teddy Thomas of Racing Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Munster will face a huge challenge against an Exeter side that are sitting top of the English Premiership with six wins from their six games. They narrowly lost out to Leinster in the group stage of last season’s competition.

“They have been flying it and are competing with the best. They are up there with Saracens and always in the mix for finals and semi finals. They won it (Premiership) two years ago. They are a physical side and have a great kicking game, great individuals but I think that the way they work together and their work rate is phenomenal. No massive egos or superstars.”

Earls also had a couple of words for potential Champions Cup debutant Jack Stafford about how to deal with the occasion. Stafford is likely to be on the bench for the game due to the injuries to Munster’s other scrum halves.

“It’s a surreal moment,” said Earls of his own European debut. Playing for Munster in Europe at Thomond Park is what you dream of. It’s surreal feeling but you can’t blow it out of proportion. I’d tell him that it’s just another rugby game. He is a real competitor and a fiery fella. I have no doubt that if he does get a go at the weekend, he will breeze through it.”

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John Keogh