Hayes legacy will live on with Munster : Varley

Damien Varley insists that even though Munster Rugby’s front row mainstay John Hayes has hung up his boots, his values and experience will stay with the team as they seek to clinch a 13th Heineken Cup quarter-final qualification against Castres Olympique at Thomond Park in Round 5.


The 2006 and 2008 champions are a bonus point victory away from becoming the first team to automatically qualify for the last eight and Irish international hooker Varley believes the spirit of his former front row colleague will guide them to their goal.


“It will seem a little strange not having John around the dressing room, but all teams evolve and move on. When we played against Northampton Saints in Round 1 it was the first time we hadn’t had an Anthony Foley, Alan Quinlan, John Hayes or David Wallace in the starting line-up,” said Varley.


“John has been such a massive part of Munster rugby for the past 14 seasons, but that’s sport – guys move on. John has passed on a massive amount of knowledge and experience to the younger players and will continue to be an inspiration to all of us.


“He spoke to us in the dressing room after his final appearance, in the game against Connacht Rugby over the Christmas period, and told us what it had meant to him to wear the Munster jersey. His values will be carried on by those who remain and none of us will ever take for granted our place in the side or the shirt we pull on.”


Hayes made an amazing 101 appearances in the Heineken Cup, including four finals, while Varley has taken over the mantle of front-line hooker at Munster from injury-hit Jerry Flannery and has started the last 12 European games.


“Last season was very disappointing from a Heineken Cup perspective and at the start of the season we vowed to better ourselves and go on and win it this year,” said Varley.


“We have won four out of four in our Pool to date and although we know we aren’t winning well we have at least put ourselves in a good position to qualify with two games to go.


“We’ve put a lot of work in up front this season and I think we are a real forced to be reckoned with at the set-pieces. The arrival of BJ Botha has added more strength up front and we are a physical side capable of putting real pressure on teams.


“We know Castres will come with a point to prove after the way we beat them with a Ronan O’Gara drop goal in injury time and it will be the same when we go to face Northampton Saints. We all know there are two tough games to come and, from a psychological point of view, we want to keep on winning to maintain our momentum.”


Two more victories would give Munster a first clean-sweep of their Pool games and make them only the ninth club to win six out of six since the tournament went to home and away Pool matches back in 1997/98. That may be the goal, but history shows that no club since that season has won the Heineken Cup without losing a game.


Northampton became the latest club to complete a full house of wins last season and went on to reach the final, and lead at half-time, before falling at the ninth hurdle against Leinster Rugby.


“Tradition is there to be broken, although we all know that winning nine straight games in Europe is very hard but someone is going to do it and all we want to do is keep on winning,” added Varley.

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