DAMIEN Varley had two goals in mind when he headed to London on trial with Wasps two years ago.
The hooker had no intention of missing an opportunity to win a professional contract with one of England’s premier clubs, and he was equally determined it should lead him home to Munster.
The single-minded Varley had already decided to park a biomedical engineering degree and concentrate on trying to make a name for himself on the rugby fields of Europe and the world.
So far, so good; he won his contract, stayed for a year, did enough to merit being called back to where he wanted to be, and now has an Irish cap to his credit.
“I set out my aim before I went over, I wanted a contract at the end of it; failing wasn’t really an option for me,” Varley said.
Within a few weeks, fourth-choice hooker Varley had captured the headlines from one of the Premiership’s dream games, Leicester v Wasps at Welford Road. Wasps won the game 28-19 and Varley scored the try to clinch the victory. Although his first-team appearances were limited, he remains convinced his move was the best thing he could possibly have done at the time to advance his career.
Apart from the little pointers he picked up from various players and coaches in England, he is forever grateful to French hooker Raphael Ibanez who, he says, was particularly helpful.
“It was a new environment for me and I was playing and training under and with top coaches and great players, so I learned a huge amount. But with Ibanez it was position-specific and the key is to be able to take in little things from guys that are ahead of you, guys with more experience. It’s part of the learning process,” he said.
But if Varley enjoyed his time with Wasps, a move back to Munster was a no-brainer from his point of view.
“I think anyone from Munster would feel much the same; it’s the place you want to be, the team you want to play for. Growing up I aspired to play for this team; people might not always get the chance straight off, so from my point of view I had to go away. I got experience over there but the minute the opportunity arose to come back I grabbed it with open arms.”
Yet, he would still recommend, in certain circumstances, that young players move away for a year or so.
“Obviously I’m a fan although I suppose that’s because I came out the right side. Young guys should take opportunity when it comes their way – if that opportunity is here, great, but if there is an opportunity somewhere else then take it.”
The competition for places in the Munster team is currently at a premium but opportunity will knock this season more than most years. An extended Magners League programme coupled with next year’s World Cup, means established internationals aren’t going to be available as often as in the past.
That will provide opportunity for the likes of Varley to gain more experience at a level required to prepare him for bigger things and to build on the few minutes of Test rugby he enjoyed against Australia on Ireland’s summer tour.
In international terms he would be the first to admit he is somewhat down the pecking order. Where he will be at the end of the season is anyone’s guess, but based on past aspirations he’ll probably be very disappointed if he hasn’t moved up a place or two.
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