On holiday in Portugal on Sunday - facing the haka on Wednesday: Niall Scannell's mad week

The Munster and Ireland hooker was enjoying a beer when his phone rang on Sunday. Within three days he was facing the Maori All Blacks.

Niall Scannell at training in Auckland.
Niall Scannell at training in Auckland.

NIALL SCANNELL STARTED his week on holiday in Alvor. For the first time in nearly a year, rugby wasn’t on the agenda.

And then his phone rang. Rob Herring was an injury doubt, Andy Farrell informed him. With this in mind, how would he like to come to Auckland for a five-match tour? Within an hour his bags were packed and he was on the road.

It is just one of those things professional sportsmen do, placing the rest of their lives on hold in the hope that the next break could be their big one.

And that was the case with Scannell in Hamilton yesterday evening. Three days ago he wasn’t even in the Ireland squad; yesterday he was packing down against the Maori All Blacks.

This is Scannell’s take on a madcap week: “When Faz rang me he did note that it was about midnight and the first thing he said to me was ‘good job, you’re still up anyway’ so we’ll just leave it at that.

“I was enjoying a few beverages with my wife and my brothers over in Portugal.

“But look, we’ll be there again and walking back to tell them I was going to have to leave straight away because I was going to New Zealand was a great buzz.

“They were delighted for me and Maeve, my wife was delighted as well and in fairness to her she was left over in Portugal so I’m sure I’m going to owe her another good holiday when I get home.”

The funny thing is something exactly like this happened four years ago, when Ireland toured Australia.

Again he hadn’t made the original cut but when Rory Best went down in training, Scannell answered the call. Again, holiday plans had to be scrapped. It’s part of the terms and conditions that comes with being a pro.

dave-heffernan-nick-timoney-bundee-aki-jordan-larmour-niall-scannell-and-jeremy-loughman-during-the-maori-all-blacks-haka Scannell (second from right) faces the haka. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It is very tough for the families when there’s a bit of the unknown and, you know, when you’re left off the initial squad you make your own plans and then things change and she was very accepting of that. She helped me get packed and get on the road to Faro Airport.

“That was kind of the start of the whirlwind and to be honest it was a bit surreal when I woke up this morning thinking I was going to play a game for Ireland but look, I just really enjoyed it.”

His concern, Farrell said, was that he wouldn’t be ready for a game of that magnitude, so soon after jumping off a plane. Instead, he shored up the set-piece when he came on to replace Dave Heffernan. “He was a little bit worried that he would let the team down. He certainly didn’t do that,” said Farrell. “He added when he came on.”

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He needed to. Ireland were 32-10 at half-time, regaining some respectability by shutting the Maori All Blacks out in the second half.

“I think we showed at certain points in the game that we can mix it with them but unfortunately we just didn’t do it for 80 minutes and we gave them a few openings to get into the game,” said Scannell. “There’s a lot to work on for us and we can grow but we definitely don’t feel like they were out of reach.

“There were points in that game, in that performance that we were well able to mix it with them, we just maybe need to put it together a bit better and hopefully that that cohesiveness will grow as the tour goes on if we’re lucky and we’ll have another crack off them in two weeks’ time.”

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About the author:

Garry Doyle  / reports from Auckland

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