Twelve months on from making his compettive debut as a second-half replacement in the Magners League opener against Glasgow Warriors, Damien Varley leads the front line against Aironi Rugby in Musgrave Park on Saturday evening.
He does so with 23 Munster caps under his belt and as an Irish international following his bow against the Australians during the summer and no disguising his enthusiasm for the task ahead.
"I have to say I'm very excited about playing the Italian side in the Magners." he told journalists at Munster's media briefing yesterday in UL. " New teams bring a new dimension, an unexpected aspect. The Italian teams are always physical, they look to dominate up front. We played Treviso in the Heineken Cup so we know what they’re like but Aironi bring something new and there’s no question it’s an exciting prospect."
Could it be that to some extent, expect the unexpected, is what's been preached in the Munster dressing room ? "We’ve seen a little footage from their friendlies." says the 27 year old." Any team you haven’t played is difficult to a certain extent. I don’t expect it to be a fully forward orientated game. They’ll bring a very physical presence up front, they seem to look to dominate at scrum and line out so that’s an area we’ll have to address. But they look to have a very lively set of backs," Varley says. "Besides that they’ll have an unexpectedness about them that makes this a tricky but very good opener for us."
"But we prepare the same way we do for Magners League or Heineken Cup games week in,week out, so I think that’s the best we can do."
One name that Varley and Co will be very familiar with is Nick Williams and he is under no illusions the former Munster man will have an influence on the game. "A very very good player. Very dynamic, powerful, good skill set. Having played with him we know what he brings to the game, little things like that help us to focus on our opposition."
Varley doesn't shy away from the critics who pointed the finger last season. "Last year, up front we were probably very inconsistent," he accepts, " particularly at scrum time and that was an area we were looking to improve. In the pre-season games we were looking to take a step in that direction. Last week against Gloucester I thought we fronted up fairly well and I think it’s a question of pushing on from there this weekend.
"We’re working hard on that, a strong scrum is key throughout the field. If you’re going back in the scrum it’s a big psychological boost to your opposition and it has a knock-out effect on everone else on the field. . So it’s something we’ve really focused on and look to bring forward. This game will tell us a little more."