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Published: 12:21 | 15/4/16

Earls wary of Connacht threat

Munster face Connacht in Pro12 on Saturday

Keith Earls says Munster struggle with possession rugby compared to Saturday's Pro 12 opponents Connacht.

Anthony Foley's side take on second-placed Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday, and Earls admits that Munster will need to stick to a more power-based game if they are to secure a result in Galway.

“It’s been impressive. It’s high risk, but they are pulling it off," Earls said of Connacht's quick-play possession game.

"It’s the same game-plan [former Munster coach Rob Penney] brought in to us and obviously we didn’t take to it as well as Connacht. It’s obviously good to the eye.

"Out of the two years, it probably worked out for us seven times. We played really well, but different squads, and different characters.

"It’s probably tradition in Munster to go and beat up teams. We wouldn’t be used to Donncha O’Callaghan or someone out on the wing. And the Munster lads like getting stuck in. When it did work out for us we played really well. It’s an attractive style — but it does need time."

Munster, who lie sixth in the table, need to stay ahead of seventh-placed Edinburgh to secure European rugby for the 22nd consecutive season, with matches against Edinburgh in Cork on 29 April and Scarlets at Thomond Park on 7 May to come after Saturday's match against Pat Lam's high-fliers.

"It’s scary [the thought of not being Europe next season], and that’s something that has to be a motivating factor for us. It’s win or bust now,” Earls said.

“At a minimum we want to be in top four, and if not we want to qualify for Europe, because it could be a long season if we are not next year. That’s where Munster want to be. We want to play in front of full houses in Thomond Park on European days.”

Foley makes three changes from the side beaten 16-13 by Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on 2 April, with hooker Mike Sherry, back row Jack O'Donoghue and winger Darren Sweetnam coming in.

Captain CJ Stander makes the positional switch to six with Tommy O'Donnell remaining at seven.

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made three changes from the starting XV that narrowly lost 33-32 to Grenoble last week in the European Challenge Cup quarter-final.

.Top try scorer Matt Healy returns to the left wing following an injury to Danie Poolman, with Robbie Henshaw returning to full back.

Aly Muldowney partners Irish international Ultan Dillane up front while Eoin McKeon has recovered from illness to start in the back row.

"Aly and Eoin come in for us on Saturday and will bring fresh legs and energy having not travelled to France last week," Lam said.

"It's another big challenge tomorrow but we're very excited by it. We have a lot of respect for Munster and what they have achieved. I have no doubt that as province with huge history and pride they will come here with intensity and focus. We will need to continue to channel our work ethic and physicality into our team structures to get the valuable points on offer.

"With the weather promising to hold up, it's set up to be a cracker of a game - the sort of rugby you want to be playing in front of a big crowd at this time of the season. While we have a lot of young and less experienced players in our side, these are exactly the type of games that will accelerate their continued development and progression as Connacht and Irish rugby players."

Connacht: Robbie Henshaw, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Shane O'Leary, Kieran Marmion. Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Aly Muldowney, Sean O'Brien, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Ronan Loughney, JP Cooney, Andrew Browne, James Connolly, John Cooney, Jack Carty, Fionn Carr.

Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer; Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; CJ Stander (capt), Tommy O'Donnell, Jack O'Donoghue.

Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Robin Copeland, Jordan Coghlan, Tomás O'Leary, Ian Keatley, Andrew Conway.

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