Earls returns to face Clermont

Ireland international named on right wing for Munster in Heineken Cup semi-final

Keith Earls during Munster training earlier this week. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Keith Earls during Munster training earlier this week. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho


Munster welcome back Keith Earls to their starting line-up for Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont in Montpellier. The Irish back is the only change to the Munster team that beat Premiership side Harlequins in the quarter-final and he comes onto the right wing. His inclusion means that Denis Hurley reverts to the bench.

Earls came through this week’s training with Munster showing no ill-effects from the shoulder injury that has kept him out of the game since the end of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign in March. He damaged his AC joint and although he has made a rapid recovery, at one stage it was thought that his season might have been over.

There are two changes to the Munster bench with John Ryan coming in for the injured Stephen Archer, who has damaged his wrist, while the knee injury Donncha O’Callaghan picked up against Leinster also rules him out. His place in the secondrow goes to Billy Holland, who came on as a replacement for O’Callaghan against Leinster.

It is Earls’s first outing for Munster since they played against Parisian side Racing Metro in January and his first competitive match since Ireland played against Italy five weeks ago. As is normal with Heineken Cup away match weekends, extra cover travel with the squad with Johne Murphy and Dave O’Callaghan also included.

Clermont have made four changes from their 36-14 victory over Montpellier in the quarter-finals, with Australian outhalf Brock James returning for the first time in five weeks.

Wales international Regan King replaces injured captain Aurelien Rougerie in midfield where he will partner French star Wesley Fofana.

There are two changes in the pack with Georgian loosehead prop David Zirakashvili coming in for Daniel Kotze, while Julien Bonnaire moves from number eight to blindside to replace the injured Gerhard Vosloo, with Damien Chouly taking over at the back of the scrum. French international Bonnaire also takes over the captaincy duties from Rougerie.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Regan King, Wesley Fofana, Napolioni Nalaga; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, David Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines, Julien Bonnaire (capt), Julien Bardy, Damien Chouly. Replacements : Ti’i Paulo, Vincent Debaty, Clément Ric, Julien Pierre, Alexandre Lapandry, Ludovic Radosavljevic, Jean-Marcel Buttin, Seru Nakaitaci/ David Skrela.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell capt, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan. Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian du Preez, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Cathal Sheridan, Ian Keatley, Denis Hurley.

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