Damien Varley: As a front row you have to be aware of the guys you’re coming up against.
Question: How conscious are you of the strength of the Clermont front row?
Answer: “You have to be cognisant of the fact that they have huge strength in depth. As a front row you have to be aware of the guys you’re coming up against — their size, their physicality, their sheer amount of experience. If you’re playing front row it’s difficult at any stage of the year, let alone the semi-final of the Heineken Cup.
Q: Leave the strength alone for a minute; how beneficial is that experience?
A: “It’s massive: there’s a reason people say there’s no substitute for experience, it’s true. A lot of us would never have played at this level, or would never have won anything at this level. That’s probably one reason we’ve had so much criticism this season, on account of the transition thing being bandied about. But I think we have a lot of experience, and access to a lot of experience, guys who’ve been here many times before. When you’ve someone like Paul O’Connell in the pack, or B J Botha at tight head, they’ve got plenty of experience. It’s cup rugby at the end of the day and we have to believe we can take them on up front no matter how much experience they have.
Q: Is it a matter of getting them to play a game they’re not comfortable with, then?
A: “They’re obviously very eager to win the competition, just as Munster were — and Munster are, still. We’ll watch their previous games and see what ways we can target them and try to anticipate what way we think they’ll try to target us. You’ve got to be aware of the different things guys bring. The Georgians tend to be physical and aggressive for instance, and they have Davit Zirakashvilli on their team, but we’d have a game plan in place as well. We’ll hope to make them work in a way they wouldn’t be used to in the Top 14, and to make them do things they’re not used to because they’re not doing those things regularly in their domestic league.”
Q: The Clermont front row didn’t have it all their own way against Toulouse last weekend; were they looking ahead?
A: “No doubt they’re looking ahead a bit – the Heineken Cup is something they want to win, as I said, to add to the French championship they won a couple of years ago. Toulouse-Clermont is always a physical game and we’d have a good look at that and other games to see what other teams have exposed, to see if there’s anything that we do which would also expose them. Of course there needs to be trust among the Munster front row, a belief they can do the job too . . .
We’ve proved our set piece can function in the past – in the Munster-Leinster game recently you had a starting Ireland front row and a front row aspiring to be the Irish front row, and I’d feel a lot of us came out on top in that game.
Q: If you had a blank cheque and the opportunity to buy any of the Clermont front rows . . .
A: “I’m going to say yes and no. Yes, because any one of them would have a huge amount to offer. No, because we have good depth ourselves coming through and that we’ve progressed a lot with the players we have. The youthful front row versus the experienced front row is going to be a huge clash. I’d be backing us.
Q: How will the weather in the south of France impact on the Munster front row?
A: “It’s not too bad today here in Cork! Look, we wouldn’t be used to the heat and even training in the relative heat this week at home, it’d take that bit more out of you.
The forecast right now seems a bit dark and drizzly for Montpelier this Saturday, and the fact that it’s an evening game should help us a bit too. I think the kind of game we play, and the things they won’t like to do, the heat should affect them as much as it affects us. It’ll come down to attitude, whether it’s sunny or monsoon, and I’m backing us.”
Q: Because the cliche is that the scrum is very important in France . . .
A: People say that and you’d think the scrum isn’t important anywhere else. They’ll be targeting our front row as a statement of intent. We’ll be targeting them too, and I’m sure Nigel (Owens) will be trying to implement the laws there. The first scrum will be massive, the first battle in a huge war. If we win it then that’ll sow a seed of doubt in their minds. French players can get a bit panicky at times and we’ll be trying to bring them to the well alright in the front row.”
Q: At least there’s a language barrier to keep the chat to a minimum . . .
A: “I’m sure we’ll find a few common words to throw at each other, don’t worry.”