Keith Earls moves to fill Munster’s midfield shortfall

URC preview: Simon Zebo on the bench as Stormers descend on Thomond Park

Thomond Park, Limerick
Kick-off: 7.35pm
On TV: Live on RTÉ 2, Premier Sports 2 and URC TV

Reflecting their surfeit of outside backs and current shortage at midfield with Damian de Allende on Springboks duty and Chris Farrell injured, Keith Earls starts at outside centre for the first time since January 2018.

Wingers Calvin Nash and Shane Daly also start, with Simon Zebo on the bench for his 100th league appearance after marking his second Munster debut with the brace of tries which bookended their 42-17 win over the Sharks last Saturday.

The only change to the pack which laid the foundations for Munster's other four tries sees Keynan Knox start at tight-head. Craig Casey, who buzzed like a bee last week, and Joey Carbery continue their half-back partnership.


Benetton were able to find the edges against the Stormers' outside-in defence as the latter let slip an 18-7 lead in Treviso last week. But, as Stephen Larkham forewarned in midweek when the Indian summer bade farewell, Munster's ambitions are liable to be trimmed given the inclement forecast of wind and rain.

Then again, having enjoyed Cape Town-like weather in northern Italy last week, the Stormers won't be too enamoured with these conditions, and both their line-out and defensive maul struggled against Benetton.

Head coach John Dobson has made five changes. Prop Brok Harris makes his first appearance since 2014, having played over 100 caps for the Dragons in the interim. Lock Adre Smith and scrum-half Stefan Ungerer earn their first starts.

“These are the sorts of games that every player wants to be involved in, so our players will leave it all out there this weekend,” said Dobson. “We will have to be accurate in our execution in all areas against a good Munster side, and we are excited to see what the players coming in can add.”

A calf injury has prevented Mike Adamson from refereeing, with Andrew Brace taking his place.

MUNSTER RUGBY: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Keith Earls, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Keynan Knox; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Peter O'Mahony (capt), Jack O'Donoghue, Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, RG Snyman, Jack O'Sullivan, Rowan Osborne, Ben Healy, Simon Zebo.

STORMERS: Warrick Gelant, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Dan du Plessis, Leolin Zas, Manie Libbok, Stefan Ungerer, Brok Harris, Scarra Ntubeni, Neethling Fouche, Adre Smith, Salmaan Moerat (capt), Nama Xaba, Willie Engelbrecht, Evan Roos.
Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter, Leon Lyons, Sazi Sandi, Ernst van Rhyn, Marcel Theunissen, Godlen Masimla, Tim Swiel, Rikus Pretorius.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)

Betting: 1/40 Munster, 75/1 Draw, 14/1 Stormers. Handicap odds (Stormers +25pts) 10/11 Munster, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Stormers.

Forecast: Munster to win.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times