MUNSTER’S Keith Earls admits the prospect of the province not bring involved in next season’s European Champions Cup is a ‘scary’ one.
Earls watched two of the weekend’s four Champions Cup quarter-finals on TV, but says it was tough viewing,
Sixth-placed Munster have three games to secure Champions Cup qualification, beginning with Saturday’s high stakes interprovincial clash with Connacht at the Sportsground.
Earls sees close similarities between the expansive gameplan high-flying Connacht are playing under Pat Lam and that utilised by former Munster coach Rob Penney.
Earls said: “(Connacht’s gameplan) It’s high risk, but they are pulling it off. It’s the same game-plan Rob Penney brought in to us, the two-four-two, and obviously we didn’t take to it as well as Connacht.
“It’s obviously good to the eye, people to watch it.”
So why didn’t Munster enjoy more success with the Penney gameplan and why not stick with it?
“I don’t know. I think there were a couple of games, out of the two years, it probably worked out for us seven times. We played really well, but different squads, and different characters.
“It’s probably tradition in Munster, we are able to go and beat up teams. They wouldn’t be used to Donncha O’Callaghan or someone out on the wing. And the lads like getting stuck in, Munster boys like getting stuck in.
“When it did work out for us we played really well. It’s an attractive style, Argentina, they are all starting to pick it up now. And it does need time.
“When you look at our squad there is a lot of young lads and they are in their first or second year of professional rugby. There is nothing wrong, we are beating ourselves.
“There is nothing wrong with our gameplan now. When we break down we are leaving a lot of opportunities out there.
“When you look at a team, whoever you are playing you try and create moves to break down their defence, and sometimes they defend differently. I think that’s the way the game is going.”
While Munster’s initial focus is on securing a Champions Cup qualification place over their three remaining fixtures, Earls is refusing to give up on the prospects of Munster making the top four in the Guinness Pro12.
Earls says the fear or missing out on Europe’s premier club rugby competition is a major driving force.
He said: “It’s scary, and that’s something that has to be a motivating factor for us. It’s win or bust now. We are not ruling out top four yet.
“At a minimum we want to be in top four, and if not we want to qualify for Europe, because it could be a long season if we are not next year. That’s where Munster want to be. We want to play in front of full houses in Thomond Park on European days.
“We have to start performing to get the crowds coming back to Thomond Park, we need to give people a reason to come back. In fairness, there have been good crowds. Times have changed, times have changed.
“It can be frustrating at times but we can’t be angry about it. We need to bring it on as players.”
Despite Munster’s struggles this season, Earls believes the majority of the province’s fans are remaining positive.
“The majority of people are positive. The people who know about rugby know this is a young squad and they know they need to give us time. But then it’s up to us to put pressure on ourselves to perform.
“The game against Leinster, we probably played a small bit too much. We probably panicked a small bit under pressure, and we tried to just blast over them when space was out wide.
“And that’s something that we have to take from that game. Is learn and have confidence to have a go at teams.”
Given the fiercely competitive nature of the battle for top six and top four places in the Pro12, Earls believes Munster will have to win their three remaining regular season fixtures against Connacht, Edinburgh and Scarlets.
“It’s pressure rugby now. We’re used to semi-finals and finals and now it’s pressure at the other end almost, trying to qualify for Europe and the play-offs.
“We try to win every game but there is more pressure on us to win these ones.
“We’re back to being underdogs and that’s where we like being. Our backs are against the wall and that’s where Munster squads in the past have come out fighting.
“It’s a new group of players, but hopefully we can show some of the Munster of old.
“We have a lot of young lads and we need to have confidence in the team. We can’t be frightened of making mistakes.”