The pre-match rhetoric building up to Munster 22-27 loss to Racing 92 on Sunday was that of the reunion of Donnacha Ryan and his former team.
Ryan left the southern province at the end of last season, much to the dismay of Munster supporters everywhere and he gave them a stark reminder of what they have been missing with an immense performance in Bordeaux.
Ryan caused havoc with Munster’s lineout which was one of the many reasons Johann van Graan’s side failed to build any serious momentum throughout the first half and for Keith Earls, he knows how his good friend played a pivotal role for his side.
“He was massive,” Earls said.
“Obviously, he knows us inside out and he knows what gets us going, possibly our weaknesses. Especially for line-out, himself and Billy [Holland] had massive mind-games leading up to it.
“Donnacha was massive when he was with us, leading our line-out. I think if Racing didn’t have Donnacha Ryan in their line-out, CJ Stander scores in the first-half with that move through the middle of the line-out. His work-rate, his knowledge and the little cues he’d pick up on, he got around and hit CJ.”
That moment highlighted by Earls was one of many where Ryan caused serious disruption to his former team but Earls makes sure to make the point of how humble his former teammate was at the end of the match.
“Yeah, he’s a close friend, Donnacha. He’s a Munster man, you could see he was nearly apologising, it was like he was hurt. He’s a man on his own mission and we had good chats in the dressing room afterwards and I’m delighted for him as an individual but it’s a tough one for us to swallow.”
Much has been made of the weather which Munster experienced in Bordeaux that day and whether the men in red struggled with the heat. However, Earls makes the point that Ryan mentioned to him that the weather was only getting to that point recently in France, so both teams would have been on an even keel in that regard.
“No, it would have been the same for both teams. Talking to Donnacha, he said French weather was only starting to get good in the last two days and some of the lads in South Africa would have been used to the high altitude but yeah, it was tough to play in but it was tough for both teams.”
Rugby Players Ireland and Zurich have today teamed up with Irish international rugby player Keith Earls to announce the nominees for the 2018 Zurich Players’ Player of the Year Award. The Zurich Irish Rugby Players Awards, one of the biggest nights in Irish sport, will take place on Wednesday, 16th May, at the Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge. In contention for the much sought-after Zurich Players’ Player of the Year Award are four 2018 NatWest Six Nations Champions, Grand-Slam winners, Champions Cup Semi-Finalists and two Champions Cup Finalists, who have all excelled for their provinces and country in an incredible year for Irish rugby: Keith Earls, Tadhg Furlong, Conor Murray, and Johnny Sexton. Katie Fitzhenry, Ciara Griffin and Claire Molloy are nominated for the BNY Mellon Women’s XV Player of the Year 2018, while Jordan Larmour, James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale are nominated for the Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year Award.