Varley expects physical battle despite Ulster's weakened hand
Published 08/05/2014 | 02:30
As if the general Irish sports fan wasn't indifferent enough to the Pro12, Ulster's decision to send down a weakened team for their inter-provincial clash at Thomond Park this weekend will hardly help matters.
For those attempting to sell the Pro12 as a viable, competitive entity – unless you're a one-time All Black being offered €300,000 for the privilege – Munster may again struggle to flog seats for this one.
Limerick's citadel was a ghostly less than half-full for their last outing – and that a crucial top-four play-off game against one of the most attractive teams around, Glasgow – and they may struggle to better that estimated 12,000 figure this time around.
Glasgow won't be too chuffed at Ulster's decision to send in the reserves – should Munster, as expected, turn the northerners over with ease, they could unexpectedly leapfrog the Scots and snaffle a cherished home semi-final against Gregor Townsend's men.
Munster captain Damian Varley, perhaps with an air of cheerful delusion, expects Ulster to bring nothing but the best. "It is a Munster v Ulster clash," he says. "It is not one they will want to roll over in. We would definitely expect their best 15 to come down. They won't want to lose and for any provincial games, it has to be the top 15."
We've news for you Damian – it won't. Still, Ulster have demonstrated that, even if weakened numerically – as they have been twice in the last month or so due to early red cards – they are arguably just as fiercely resistant with a weakened hand as with their full deck.
"Ulster have a lot of points to prove as well," adds Varley. "Some decisions have gone against them which have put them in a difficult position to probably finish a game when you are playing with 13 or 14 men. Ulster are really going to attack us up front, particularly in the line-out and maul area.
"They are going to try and attack us out wide because that is where we failed the last time. As always when Munster and Ulster play it is going to be a physical game."
Munster's perspective on any season – at least from their supporters' viewpoints, as their Pro12 attendances will testify – is perennially shadowed by European efforts. A second successive semi-final defeat hints at niggling growing pains from a squad yet to fully convince they can win silverware; capturing this title may help scratch the nagging itch.
"We have certainly grown a lot more this year than when we did when we played Clermont in the semi-final last season," reckons Varley, already eyeing up the inevitable semi-final tilt in Firhill.
"Glasgow away, if that is the way it is looking at the minute, we beat them over there this season and they beat us over here, made fools of us over here. It will be an interesting game if that is what comes to pass, which it does look like doing at the minute. But that is two weeks away and we still have a big game against Ulster that we need to fully concentrate on."
Asked if the squad want to "do it" for Rob Penney, the captain responds with typical Munster-like disregard for the individual trumping the collective.
"It is part of the nature of sport, that people come and go," he responds. "As a collective and for Munster it is very important that we win something."
Munster will hope to continue their rehabilitation with an expectant easy success on Saturday. "It was important for us to bounce back," adds Varley. "I mean how do you describe the disappointment of the week before?"
Only, it seems, by erasing it completely with new triumphs to supplant the failure.