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Earls is set for shock Saracens switch as Sexton fears ease

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 26/01/2016

Wanted man: Keith Earls could turn down a new Munster deal in favour of Saracens
Wanted man: Keith Earls could turn down a new Munster deal in favour of Saracens

Keith Earls looks set to turn down Munster's offer of a new contract and join Premiership champions Saracens on a three-year deal.

The province had been optimistic about their chances of retaining the 28-year-old winger who has kept his counsel on his future, but it is understood that he is close to confirming the move to Allianz Park next season.

Family issues rather than financial motives are believed to be the primary motivation for the Moyross native.

If completed, the move would put Earls' international career at risk. He started every one of Ireland's games at last year's World Cup, breaking Brian O'Driscoll's record for tries scored at the tournament with his effort against Italy.

Having joined up with the rest of the Ireland set-up at Carton House yesterday, he is firmly in the running for a place in Joe Schmidt's match-day 23 for the Six Nations opener against Wales next week.

The union don't have an official policy on overseas players, but to date Jonathan Sexton is the only player Schmidt has selected from abroad. That will be tested next season with Marty Moore, Ian Madigan and potentially Earls plying their trade abroad.

While the IRFU may look to put together a last-ditch move to retain the versatile back who has won 46 caps for his country, it is understood his mind appears set on moving.

That comes as a major blow for Munster coach Anthony Foley who is also at risk of losing Simon Zebo to France where Toulouse, Stade Francais and Pau are interested.

Sexton, meanwhile, is on track to be fit in time for the Wales game as Leinster said he did not fail the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) at Wasps on Saturday.

The IRFU's medical bulletin said the out-half has gone through stages one and two of the HIA process and is due to complete stage three today.

His head coach at Leinster, Leo Cullen, stressed that his club has the best welfare of his players at heart.

Confusion arose in the immediate aftermath of the game when both Cullen and Leinster Rugby reported that Sexton had failed the Head Injury Assessments which are undertaken when players receive potentially concussive blows, as it appeared the out-half had done when clashing with Brendan Macken.

However, it has emerged that Leinster staff, Dr Jim McShane and physio Garreth Farrell, erred on the side of caution and advised the removal of the player due to the superficial nature of the blow.

Many people will now re-open the debate about what many medical experts believe are badly flawed concussion guidelines and return to play protocols, as laid down by World Rugby and followed by the IRFU.

Hence, nobody can accurately ascertain the full state of Sexton's health but Leinster insist that they took every precaution with the player.

"We've lost a player this year to retirement, Kevin McLaughlin, so we're ultra cautious," asserted Cullen.

"And it's important that everyone is really aware of that fact. The player welfare is really important to us.

"I know there was a bit of hysteria but he's being managed as best as possible.

"The medics weren't happy because he clashed heads, he's got a bit of slight inflammation on the side of his head, so that's almost enough."

Belfast Telegraph

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