Support act Keatley wants star billing

Rugby is often portrayed as a brutal sport performed in a white hot environment. But behind the scenes there is a gentler side.

Support act Keatley wants star billing

Damien Varley showed his when he performed an excellent rendition of Lean on Me during RTÉ’s The Saturday Night Show in aid of the Pink Ribbon charity in pursuit of breast cancer awareness at the weekend.

A possible career in music awaits after he has hung up his boots and his team-mates, led by out-half Ian Keatley, were delighted with his performance and offered their personal congratulations to the hooker.

However, with a game approaching fast this weekend and an urgency to stay top of the RaboDirect Pro12, that gentle nature disappeared fast. By yesterday he was being called a certain X Factor contestant’s name.

“Yeah, a few of the lads were calling him Susan Boyle today,” said Keatley. “It was a different side to him, a softer side, but we knew he had that in him, although we wouldn’t normally see it.”

But ask him about JJ Hanrahan and that protective sheath returns. The Currow native made a costly mistake in Munster’s Heineken Cup away defeat to Edinburgh but bounced back when taking control of a Pro12 victory over then leaders Glasgow last week. For that, Keatley heaped words of praise on his younger colleague, who is also his biggest rival.

“I think it is great for me and JJ. I think we have got four man-of-the-match performances between us, I got the last one against Leinster and now he gets this one.

“I was the first one to congratulate him on his try, even on Twitter, so I am delighted for him. At the end of the day, and I have said this before, it is Munster who gets the victory, not myself or JJ.

“Nobody took that [Edinburgh defeat] harder than JJ but he took it on the chin and that’s all part of the experience I think. We’ve all been there. It’s similar to Racing Metro last year when we made a mistake in the final minutes of that game and we bounced back from that. We qualified from our group but we’re still full of confidence for the European experience. We got back on track against Gloucester so it was great for JJ to bounce back at the weekend.”

Not that Keatley is looking to build up the Hanrahan profile by allowing him further access to the Munster No 10 jersey. Having waited in the wings for Ronan O’Gara’s departure it is surely time for him to make the position his own.

Being left out of Joe Schmidt’s original squad for the autumn internationals was a blow. However, he received some form of solace in a call from the Ireland manager to assure him his exclusion wasn’t permanent.

“He rang me and said there was little between myself, Paddy [Jackson] and Ian [Madigan],” said Keatley. “So in that case you’re only maybe one injury away from getting in.

“I don’t know if it’s encouragement or disappointment but it’s good to know that he does ring you and let you know where you stand, but discouragement from the point of that you’re not in the squad.

“There’s nothing I can do about that now, I just need to keep concentrating on my own performance and it’s another chance to show everybody what I can do.”

The tonic he will use is to concentrate on helping Munster continue their Pro12 assault and a positive result against the Ospreys this Saturday is the priority.

“We are top of the table at the moment and another good victory against a team which is relatively near us would be a good way to finish this period.

“It was a great win by the lads, a real gutsy and determined effort and to get a win over in Glasgow is a really good result.

“Our main focus at the moment is to try and beat the teams around us in the league and when you beat them you’re bound to be in a good position, which we are at the moment.”

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