RORY SCANNELL IS sporting a few stitches in his forehead as he takes a seat at Munster’s high performance centre in UL.
These are the result of Scannell’s head colliding with Matthieu Voisin’s knee as he cleared the Racing 92 flanker away during Munster’s victory in Paris last weekend.
It was simply an unfortunate incident, but it comes as little surprise that Scannell is now racking up the battle scars. While he has the qualities of a midfield playmaker with his passing and kicking games, the Cork man is not afraid of getting stuck in.
The stitches are adding up, but Scannell will continue to relish the physical stuff.
“I’d say the girlfriend is not too happy,” says the 23-year-old. “It’s two in two weeks now, I’m getting a bit haggard!”
It is Scannell’s clear thirst to engage and excel in contact that partly makes him such an exciting and effective player.
His experiences at both out-half and fullback provide him with a strong understanding of the more subtle elements of the sport, but he is also thriving in the tackle and carrying stakes as he lays down those all-important physical markers.
The rounded nature of Scannell’s game has continually caught the eye in the past two seasons, with his call-up to the Ireland squad during the November Tests coming as little surprise.
Robbie Henshaw’s concussion in the second Test against New Zealand had seen him ruled out of the final November fixture against Australia, meaning a well-deserved first summons for Scannell.
“That was a great experience, getting in to train with top-class internationals and just trying my best to keep knocking on that door,” says Scannell of his stint with Joe Schmidt’s squad. “Hopefully, I will get an opportunity soon.”
Scannell’s time with Ireland didn’t see him limited to running opposition plays at Carton House, as he remained with the matchday squad to provide injury cover on the day of the Wallabies clash.
That involvement came as something of a surprise to Scannell, but only added to the hunger he has for another shot.
“I was at home watching the New Zealand game the week before and I saw Robbie went down with an injury, and luckily for me that led to my opportunity to get into camp,” says the PBC alumnus.
“I didn’t think I was going to be near the matchday squad, but it was a great experience to be carried, warm up with the team, get a feel for what it’s like. It has pushed me on a bit now to try and get into that squad.”
With Jared Payne set to miss most of the Six Nations after kidney surgery, Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are favourites to start in the midfield for Ireland this spring, but Scannell certainly deserves further involvement in Schmidt’s training squad.
The tour to Japan in June may provide him with a chance to earn his first caps in green, but then Scannell looks physically, technically and mentally ready for an opportunity even now.
If that is not to come in this Six Nations, there is little doubt that Scannell’s work rate will allow him to continue to improve as a player. And Schmidt has given him some of those crucial ‘work ons.’
“I had a chat with him during the week of the Australia game. I asked him, ‘What areas are you looking for me to improve on?’ and he said just keep doing what I am doing, the catch-pass, the kicking – all those things in my game, if I just keep improving them.
“You look at the guys who have been playing in the centre for Ireland; over the last year or two years they have been doing extremely well, so I just have to probably outperform them week in, week out.”
Scannell is making a fine fist of it at the moment with Munster, while his older brother, Niall, is also making his own case for Ireland honours at hooker.
“It’s great,” says Scannell of playing with his brother. “Obviously, we played a lot together in school and with Dolphin.
“It’s great to be playing European Cup games together. We are both really enjoying the rugby at the moment and it is going quite well.”
The youngest Scannell brother, Billy, has been involved with the Ireland Schools squad in recent times and is hopeful of playing in the upcoming Five Nations tournament. A hooker like Niall, PBC student Billy certainly has two fine role models for his development.
As for Rory, he has been doing his best to outperform other Irish centres with an excellent campaign with Munster, combining well with Jaco Taute in midfield.
In 2015/16, he had largely been paired with Francis Saili, but the twice-capped Kiwi has only recently returned from injury.
“Obviously, they are both internationals,” says Scannell. “I have learned a lot from both of them. Last season it was very exciting playing with Frankie because he is such an attacking threat and he has that flair where he can just open up a game.
“Jaco would be slightly different. He is probably a defensive leader in our squad now and I have learned a lot defending inside him. It’s great having them both back fit now and we can chop and change the combinations.”
While Taute may be the leader in a defence that is statistically the best in the Champions Cup and Guinness Pro12, we are seeing Scannell consistently making superb reads and getting out of the Munster line to hit carriers behind the gainline.
“We try our best to put teams’ skillsets under pressure, I suppose, and we all try and follow each other. So if Jaco tells me he is going hard, then I’m going hard up inside him as well. I personally love the defence we’re playing this year.”
On Scannell’s inside shoulder has been Tyler Bleyendaal, fit again after his travails of recent years. The Cork native is appreciating the vision the former Crusaders playmaker possesses, as well as his ability to keep Munster on track in testing times.
“I think he is very calm on the pitch, which is great if you go behind or need a score,” says Scannell.
“He doesn’t get frantic and panic, so from that aspect he has been very good for us as a 10.”
Scannell is soaking up every ounce of knowledge from the men around him but he is also forging his own path towards a green jersey – whether it means using his creative skills or battering down the door.
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