Earls back on the wing for Munster’s clash with Northampton

A groin injury has ruled Keith Earls out of the URC quarter-final.

GRAHAM Rowntree has named his starting XV for Sunday’s must-win Heineken Champions Cup clash with Northampton Saints at Franklins Gardens, kick-off 1pm (BT Sport and Live 95). 

Hooker Niall Scannell has been chosen for his 150th Munster appearance, with four personnel changes and one positional switch following last weekend’s defeat against Toulouse.

Jack Crowley, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Jack O’Donoghue come into the side, with captain Peter O’Mahony moving to openside flanker.

Crowley starts at inside centre for the first time and forms a new midfield partnership with Antoine Frisch.

Earls makes his second appearance of the season on the left wing and joins Mike Haley and Calvin Nash in the back three.

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Murray partners Joey Carbery in the half-backs.

The front five is unchanged with Jeremy Loughman, Scannell and John Ryan in the front row, as Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne bed down in the second row.

O’Donoghue, O’Mahony and Gavin Coombes complete the team.

Dave Kilcoyne comes into the squad among the replacements and is in line to make his first appearance since October.

“We just need to make sure we go to Northampton to put our best foot forward, give our best performance, and go there to get the win,” said Munster’s Mike Haley,who was outstanding in the narrow opening round loss to Toulouse at Thomond Park on Sunday. 

“I think the nature of this tournament now it’s almost – I don’t want to say knockout rugby immediately – but you have to win all your games, you have to put yourself in the best spots possible.”

In an interview with his club website, Saints full-back George Furbank said: “Graham Rowntree has spoken about how it’s a ‘must win’ for Munster and it’s the same for us. I don’t think we want to put that sort of pressure on ourselves and tighten up with that sort of pressure, we want to just be free and have a clear mind. Dows (Chris Boyd, coach) always wants us to focus on performance, rather than the result, because we believe if we perform, we’ll come away with the result.”

Munster have been installed as warm favourites to win at the weekend. 

Meanwhile, Munster/Leinster in the URC at Thomond Park is now sold-out with all 25,600 snapped-up as of this Friday morning. 

Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Jack Crowley, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Jack O’Donoghue, Peter O’Mahony (captain), Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Dave Kilcoyne, Roman Salanoa, John Hodnett, Alex Kendellen, Craig Casey, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly.