MUNSTER hooker Damien Varley is more aware than most of how important opportunism is in professional rugby.
Less than a year ago he would only have dreamed of being involved with the Irish international squad. Now he has a cap, albeit earned off the back of a very short few minutes on the pitch for Ireland in their summer Test against Australia.
Yet the experience has made him want more and Varley now looks to Munster coach Tony McGahan to help him along the way. He does not expect any favours, although he is happy to have been given a start against Aironi in tomorrow’s Magners League opener in Cork.
These are, he feels, exciting times for players like him. There is a guaranteed inclusion zone where the international players will be away, where opportunities for selection on a regular basis will open up. In the absence of Jerry Flannery, he hopes to take advantage. Yet he will not be easily fooled that things will come easy.
“We (in Munster) have great depth in numbers in every position and even though the senior internationals might be away there will still be a lot of competition for places,” Varley said.
“Having strength in numbers is obviously a good thing for any side, when that includes quality players it is a major bonus. This year we have lots of guys who are pushing each other with the realisation that places are really there to be filled. That type of competition provides a very good environment.
“The thing is that these guys haven’t popped up overnight, they’re two or three years in the making as such. It’s great to see homegrown guys emerging but it’s no accident because there is a great system in place where they are taking in younger guys, preparing them in stages and it’s crucial for the future of Munster and Irish rugby.
“The senior players are fulfilling a role as well by helping in the development of the new players; some of the contributions made by the players is massive. The younger guys are taking that advice on board too; it’s easy I suppose, because the senior lads have been there to the top and what they are passing on is very positive and valuable advice.
“I’ve learned hugely, for instance, from Jerry (Flannery) but there’s loads of examples right throughout the squad where the senior guys are imparting advice for the good of the squad. It’s seen for what it is – rugby is a cycle and it’s not just about now but it’s also about the future.”
Varley is excited at the prospect of facing Italian newcomers Aironi.
“New teams bring a new dimension to the competition and Italian teams are always physical, so we will want to try to match them up front.
“It will be hard to work them out because we have only seen limited footage from their friendly games; it’s always difficult to assess the opposition until you get down to actually play against them.
“Aironi have bought in a lot of players, many of them forwards, and even though I don’t think they will bring a total emphasis on forward play, they will bring a physical presence up front; they appear (from what we have seen) to try to dominate the set pieces, particularly the scrums, so that’s something to keep in mind.
“This is a good opener for us; it’s a bonus playing at home but the fact that they’re a hard side to read should mean it will be a good test for us at the start of the season.”
Accepting that Munster’s ability in the set pieces could be crucial to the outcome, Varley admitted: “Last season we were pretty inconsistent at scrum time particularly and it was something we felt we had to improve on. Over the two pre-season games I feel that improvement has been made and we have taken it a step on; now we need to push that on again.
“For years, the Munster scrum was pretty strong but that slacked off for some reason last season; now is the time to get it moving again. We want a dominant scrum.”
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