Munster's Damien Varley ready for 'huge battle' against Toulon

Munster's Damien Varley ready for 'huge battle' against Toulon

MUNSTER’S Damien Varley says that his side's Heineken Cup semi-final tie against Toulon in Marseille this Sunday will “require the performance of everyone’s careers to date.”

The visitors will travel to France with the aim of beating the defending champions on home soil.

In doing so they'll hope to battle the statistics, which highlight that six of the last eight Heineken Cup semi-finals were won by clubs with a home advantage.

Furthermore, in 11 tournament semi-finals between French and Irish clubs, France possess the edge with six wins over Ireland's five.

The 30-year-old hooker – who has played 116 games for Munster and gained two Irish caps – believes that the upcoming fixture at The Stade Velodrome will be the biggest of his career, if he is selected.

“I’ve never started a semi-final so that’s all I’m focusing on and I dare not to look any further. This is a huge fixture and it’s a huge hill we have to overcome yet.

“It’s going to be a big week for us and only a fool would look any further than next week.

"In the Heineken Cup we have such high expectations. Going down here against Toulon, it is going to be a huge battle.

"They have grown from strength to strength over the past number of years and they are an extremely fast and physical side.

"So there is definitely a bit of fear and we are going to have our work cut out for us and do a lot of work in the coming week in preparation for it."

The enormity of the occasion resonates deeply with Varley, who still reflects on the memories from his side’s trip to France in January 2011 to face the formidable Toulon.

The visitors suffered a 32-16 pool defeat, ending 13 consecutive years of knockout European rugby.

“It was probably the most intimidating game I’ve played in my year,” he recalled.

"We gave away some stupid penalties, we'd sin bins and we were just physically dominated for the entire game. That's my memory of Toulon."

Varley is confident, however, that lessons have been learned from the defeat in Toulon and this weekend’s semi-final will showcase a fresh pool of Munster talent.

"We're probably a new side now, a younger side," Varley said.

"And we've drawn on our experiences and our losses from last year, which has fed into our ongoing progression this year. So I think it's an exciting fixture for us, an exciting time.

"We came under a lot of criticism last year. But after the win against Harlequins in the quarter-final, people began to respect the younger guys and the evolving team that it is.

"The last time I played Toulon, most of that team is retired now so, you know, I think we're capable of big performances.”

Varley will be hoping to be selected for Munster’s trip to France this weekend, after starting the first quarter-final of his career, three weeks ago against Toulouse.

"I’m looking forward to what happens this week," he added, "and hopefully selection and going down to the south of France and playing.”

Heineken Cup semi-final: Toulon v Munster - Sunday 27 April KO 4.30pm, Stade Velodrome, France