Varley: Munster is our only focus

Forget the Six Nations and settling selection grudges, Saturday night’s clash between Leinster and Munster is all about league points at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12, insists Damien Varley.

Varley: Munster is our only focus

The Munster hooker believes his provincial team-mates will not be interested in proving individual points against their rivals for jerseys in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland set-up, despite barstool and chatroom talk of a pro-Leinster bias during the RBS 6 Nations title campaign.

Asked if Munster’s mere three-man contingent in the Ireland 23 which beat France to win the championship would have any bearing on this weekend’s clash, Varley dismissed the notion and said the primary objective for Rob Penney’s side is to rub out Leinster’s two-point advantage at the top of the league and get the ideal tune-up for the following weekend’s home Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.

“I see it as a clash of top of the table and we are number two in the table as it currently stands,” Varley said. “The Six Nations is a different tournament and a different element completely.

“We’re focused solely on the fact that this is probably the biggest derby game of the season. It’s an excellent opportunity for us to hone in on what we need to prepare for the following week. That’s all the squad is focused on.”

If Munster are to succeed, both in Dublin against their arch rivals, and over the four-time European champions Toulouse at Thomond Park seven days later, Varley believes his side have to be more clinical that they showed in Saturday’s 14-3 win over Treviso in Limerick.

“Our accuracy at certain points (needs to be looked at), we made some silly unforced errors and I think going into the next two weeks, we have to be more clinical in everything we’re doing, particularly in attack and probably bring a bit more intensity. The games lend themselves to that in the next two weeks anyway but (we have to be) very clinical in our decision-making and our handling skills.”

Like wing Keith Earls, who scored Munster’s first of two tries in appalling weather conditions last Saturday, Varley was making his first appearance since January, having recovered initially from a delayed concussion and then from the foot condition plantar fascitis, which requires ongoing monitoring. Not that it prevented the hooker from contributing to a dominant scrum and lineout against Treviso in a pack that could be further boosted by the return of Ireland players Paul O’Connell, Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony.

“It was one of the many positives,” Varley said of the Munster scrum on Saturday. “I think attack at times was very, very good, albeit sometimes we made some unforced errors, which was disappointing.

“Our defence I thought was good and our discipline was really good compared to penalty counts in previous games.”

Munster’s scrum could have been even more effective had referee Leighton Hodges rewarded the home pack for their dominance at the start of the second half, when the Welsh official whistled a free kick and four penalties against the Italians as they scrummaged five metres out. Not only did Hodges decline to award Munster a penalty try he then penalised them for standing up as they put in another drive towards the Treviso line.

“Our set piece worked very well. It was disappointing that we conceded a penalty which was questionable after we were dominant in the previous five scrums,” Varley said.

Did he think it merited a penalty try? “I do. I think it was a poor decision to award them a penalty at the end. You know, the whole basis of the previous few penalties were that they were trying to kill the ball and kill our attack. So for us to be going forward and despite the fact that we went up, we should certainly have been awarded another penalty and given the opportunity to drive forward and either score a try or award a penalty again.

“They have been given for less. It’s a frustrating area when you’re so dominant up there that probably a misinterpretation or a different interpretation goes against you.”

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