Wednesday 22 November 2017

Varley knows Munster have to avoid Wallaby hangover

Two Irish provinces face tricky Magners League ties today, writes Brendan Fanning

Y ou'd think that if ever there was a good time to get Munster then today is the day. Just five days after their heroics against the Wallabies, surely they can't be at anything like the same level of intensity again.

Two years ago when they hit a rough patch in mid-season, it was attributed to the inflated sense of their own standing following the epic game against the All Blacks.

Mind you, in these circumstances two years ago, it was, coincidentally, the Scarlets who were next up in the Magners League the weekend after the All Blacks game, and Munster managed to win then. So maybe the hangover has yet to come.

Damien Varley was in London trying to make it with Wasps two years ago but he is in the middle of the Munster squad now, and was perfectly positioned last Tuesday night. With Jerry Flannery and Denis Fogarty in rehab, Varley has made every second count. So have they recovered from Tuesday?

"Just about," he says. "I remember going out for the warm-up and thinking I'd never played in a game where it was so wet and so windy. We even struggled at times trying to hear the referee. But it was all worth it in the end. We were completely focused on the job. We'd said in the build-up to it that opportunities like that didn't come round too often, to play against international sides. A lot of people wanted to prove points and put their names forward for selection. Win or lose there was nothing really to gain except your own pride, and to be able to go down in history as a team that beat an Australian touring side. So we wanted to give it everything and put our own names forward."

Two years ago, Varley was watching Munster and the All Blacks from his living room in London, picking up on the atmosphere from that remove and wishing he was part of it.

"It was special for me, having seen that, to be a part of this occasion and I was going to give it everything. But it's done now and from the word go this season we've clearly stated our intent that we want to improve our position in the Heineken Cup and the Magners League. Despite the result on Tuesday, everyone is very focused on the Llanelli game and the games after that."

Ulster's need for something positive in their lives is far beyond anything their southern cousins are chasing. Having started the competitive season with six games unbeaten, they are now trying to arrest a three-game losing streak. This week is huge for them, finishing early as it does with the trip to Treviso on Friday.

In the three weeks since the painful loss to Munster, Brian McLaughlin has had a chance to regroup, and while he's had to do that without Ruan Pienaar at least the rest of his South African contingent were on hand. He was able to name a powerful pack to go to Cardiff and, interestingly, behind the scrum he has stuck with the youngsters who have been on hand while the internationals were away. So Paddy Wallace and

Andrew Trimble will bench to begin with -- which in the circumstances is a big call.

The upside is that if Ulster can get something from this afternoon then it will be with fresh talent -- home-grown talent -- and giving game time to Irish players is a critical issue in this country. Three of Ulster's four props today tick that box. It's a start.

Cardiff: C Czekaj; R Mustoe, C Laulala, D Hewitt, T James; C Sweeney, T Slater; T Filise, R Thomas, S Andrews, J Down, P Tito (capt), M Patterson, X Rush, M Molitika. Reps: G Williams, T Davies, S Hobbs, B Griffith, B White, D Fish, G Davies, G Evans

Ulster: A Darcy; C Gilroy, N Spence, I Whitten, S Danielli; I Humphreys, P Marshall; P McAllister, N Brady, BJ Botha, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, P Wannenberg, R Diack, C Henry. Reps: A Kyriacou, B Young, J Cronin, T Barker, W Faloon, I Porter, P Wallace, A Trimble.

Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)

Munster: J Murphy; D Howlett, B Murphy, S Tuitupou, D Hurley; P Warwick, D Williams; W du Preez, D Varley, P Borlase, B Holland, I Nagle, A Quinlan, J Coughlan, N Ronan. Reps: M Sherry, D Ryan, S Archer, P O'Mahony, T O'Donnell, C Murray, T Gleeson, S Deasy.

Scarlets: D Evans; M Stoddart, G Maule, R King, L Williams; R Priestland, M Roberts; I Thomas, K Owens, P Edwards; L Reed, D Day; A Shingler, J Edwards, B Morgan. Reps: E Phillips, P John, S Gardner, D Welch, J Fa'amatuainu, T Knoyle, D Newton, S Williams.

Referee: J Jones (Wales)

Sunday Independent

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