It has been 10 years since Munster last lifted a trophy at European level, despite numerous attempts, and the team are more desperate than ever to relive the glory days, according to Keith Earls.
The Limerick winger is the only surviving member of that 2008 squad, however, he played no part in the campaign that saw the province beat Toulouse to the title in Cardiff. In his eyes, his medal is meaningless.
“Yeah, I think I’m the only one still from ’08 but I wouldn’t consider it as a winners medal, I had no interest in keeping it, my old man has it somewhere.”
“I never really got on the pitch but it was great to be involved. But in my eyes I’ve no medal, you know?”
Since then, Earls has gone on to win a host of medals at international level and has been involved in some of the biggest days in Irish rugby. Despite all that, European glory is what he craves above all else.
“It’s all I think about every day. I’ve ticked a few boxes the last couple of years with Ireland and more recently two weeks ago with New Zealand and we’ll concentrate on every game there is but Europe is the ultimate here as well so we’ll work towards that. The main thing is there’s loads of lads who’ve signed up who all have the one goal as well.”
Munster will take another step towards that goal on Sunday when they welcome Castres to Thomond Park. The province is on a high at the moment after back-to-back successes at PRO14 level and the news that a number of players have signed new contracts. Add to that the fact that key players have returned from injury and Johann van Graan finds his side in a very strong position.
“The start of the season I think there was 26 lads looking for a contract, which was huge and probably gave Johann an awful pain in his head that he had a massive amount of to re-sign again. The commitment is brilliant, it just shows that we are building a squad to move on to great things hopefully.”
“There’s a good bunch of them there that are homegrown, which is brilliant. This is where they want to be. Conor [Murray] signing up as well, it’s brilliant that he’s the best player in the world and he wants to play his rugby here and win trophies here which is a massive boost for us.”
Munster are entering a pivotal phase of the year. Following this weekend’s clash in Limerick, they travel to the Stade Pierre-Fabre for the second-leg against the French champions and then it’s back to the inter-provincial derbies. Despite having the home support this week, Earls insists that Munster are taking nothing for granted.
“They’re not Top14 champions for no reason. They’re playing intelligent rugby, they play a high-pressure game. They do kick a lot, but they’re not stupid either. They’ve some dangerous men on the wings.”
“As Pete said, they’re a passionate team. They don’t have superstars. You get the feel that it’s all about the community with them. They won the Top14 last year and it’s been a while since they’ve been in the knock-out stages or pushing for Europe. They are probably putting all their eggs in one basket in Europe (now).”
“It’s going to be a massive challenge for us, end of story, no matter what team they send over. They’re a good quality side.”
Kick off on Sunday in Thomond Park is 1pm. The game will be shown live on BT Sport.