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'I put the phone on 'Do Not Disturb'. You just have to knuckle down'

24-year-old Munster hooker Niall Scannell made his Ireland debut against Italy on Saturday.

Murray Kinsella reports from Rome

AS TEST DEBUTS go, Niall Scannell could be very pleased with himself in Rome on Saturday night, as Ireland celebrated a nine-try victory over Italy that leaves them second in the Six Nations table after two rounds.

Jame Heaslip, Niall Scannell and Rob Kearney during the National Anthem Scannell alongside Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney before the game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Munster hooker only learned at a late stage in the week that he would be starting for Ireland, but looked utterly composed throughout, before making way for James Tracy in the second half.

Captain Rory Best had, of course, been named to start at hooker for Ireland, but was struck down by a stomach bug on Thursday night and Joe Schmidt said he waited until 11.30am on Saturday morning to fully rule the 34-year-old out.

“We weren’t sure what the story was,” said Scannell after his debut on Saturday. “My usual attitude would be to prepped for everything because in the professional game these things happen all the time.

“So I was prepped and I got the heads up he was ill, it was confirmed this morning he was out. So it was good to have those few hours to take a deep breath, get settled and know what I had to do for the day.”

The 24-year-old was on Ireland’s bench a week previously, when they lost in Scotland, but head coach Schmidt opted not to send him into the fray as his side chased a victory in vain.

While Scannell says it was disappointing not to make his debut in Edinburgh it did mean that he wasn’t completely inundated with texts and phone calls in the build-up to the Italy clash.

“Most of them were out of the way last week, probably hoping that I would get on, so they were probably afraid of getting on to me this week!” said Scannell.

A view of Niall Scannell's jersey Scannell's second Ireland jersey. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“To be honest, I put the phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’. You just have to knuckle down. From this morning, I wasn’t really interacting with people.

“That’s what I’d do for most big games, so I did the same today and try to stick to routine as much as I could, then build into the game from there.”

Scannell certainly did that much, with a handful of impactful carries early in the game, while a momentum-building penalty at the first scrum of the game was an important moment in calming him.

“It was a nervous experience obviously, it was my first cap and to start and I knew I had to do a job for the team,” said Scannell.

“It was just mainly concentrating on my functional roles – scrum, throwing, make sure I could do a bit for the team. After that, anything else was a bonus.”

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Scannell ended the day with 11 tackles – joint top of the list for Ireland – seven carries for 21 metres, a pair of completed passes and a high amount of efficient and aggressive ruck work – a job well done.

His lineout throwing was largely accurate, although one did go straight over the top just before half time, while his scrummaging was also strong.

Keith Earls, Conor Murray, John Ryan, Niall Scannell and Ian Keatley celebrate winning Scannell with some of his Munster team-mates. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There were more than enough signs that the Dolphin RFC man has a big future at this level and he will hope for further caps in the coming weeks against France, Wales and England.

Best will be back in two weekends’ time for that clash with les Bleus, however, and Scannell is happy to continue to learn from the experienced hooker.

“Rory spoke to me last night, just saying he was a bit ill, so be ready to start,” said Scannell after the win over Italy. “To be honest, he gives me messages all the time and helps me with every aspect of the game.

“It’s been no different in the last few days. He helped me get prepped to where I needed to be. There wasn’t anything special needed today.”

Scannell’s parents were at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to watch his proud moment and the family is hopeful that 23-year-old Munster centre Rory will be following in his brother’s footsteps sooner rather than later.

“Rory has been in camp but back in Munster [on Friday] night and trying to do his best for them,” said Niall. “He’s obviously knocking on the door and hopefully he’s close. There wasn’t much of a race between us.

“My parents are here and just happy I got my first cap. Hopefully they’ll see his soon enough.”

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