Earls starts in Munster’s Champions Cup opener

Colm Kinsella

Reporter:

Colm Kinsella

Anthony Foley's Munster side kick-off their European Champions Cup campaign against Treviso at Thomond Park this Saturday, 5.15pm
MUNSTER have been boosted by the availability of Irish star Keith Earls for this Saturday’s European Champions Cup opener against Treviso at Thomond Park, 5.15pm.

MUNSTER have been boosted by the availability of Irish star Keith Earls for this Saturday’s European Champions Cup opener against Treviso at Thomond Park, 5.15pm.

Earls, who sustained a concussion in last weekend’s Guinness PRO12 win over Edinburgh, has been passed fit for the game after completing his return to play protocols.

Number eight CJ Stander will also lead Munster for the first time at European level. Hooker Mike Sherry makes a welcome return to European action for the first time in over two years.

Coach Foley has handed a Champions Cup debut to their 24-year-old All-Black centre Francis Saili. The former Auckland Blue will partner Denis Hurley in Munster’s midfield.

Foley said: “Francis definitely bring something different to our midfield. “We know he can be a devastating runner and he has some wonderful offloads up his sleeve, but he is also very solid defensively.

“We have already seen some really nice touches from him and he is someone we expect to make an impact. I played alongside guys like Lifeimi Mafi and Rua Tipoki who were tremendous centres, and Francis is very much in the same mould. He is a high calibre player, and we hope he will bring a lot to us as a team.”

Australian Mark Chisholm comes in to start alongside Donnacha Ryan in the second row and in doing so will make his first Champions Cup appearance having previously represented Bayonne in the Challenge Cup.

Following his arrival last week Argentinean international Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino could make his first appearance for the province after being named amongst the replacements, while academy playmaker and Dolphin RFC clubman Rory Scannell will win his first European cap if sprung from the bench.

Munster’s clash with Treviso will be televised live on Sky Sports.

Munster have also confirmed that BJ Botha’s contract has been extended further, and the South-African tighthead prop will remain with the province until June 2016. Botha’s contract had been due to expire at the end of 2015.

MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha; Donnacha Ryan, Mark Chisholm; Dave O’Callaghan, Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander (Capt). Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, John Ryan, Dave Foley, Robin Copeland, Tomás O’Leary, Rory Scannell, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.